New Delhi/Singapore, Dec 29 (IANS) The unnamed, unidentified gang-rape victim who became the global face of courage in the face of savage odds died in a Singapore hospital Saturday, halting much of India in its tracks in a rare moment of coalescing concerns that saw the leadership echoing millions in pushing for a full stop in crimes against women.
Her death should not be in vain, was the chorus from President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and civil society, doffing its collective hat to the spirited 23-year-old who propelled an entire nation into a rethink of its societal rules and laws.
Across the country, in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Bhopal, Patna, Kolkata, in city after city, the grief found echo. Hundreds gathered at various places demanding an end to crimes such as this.
In the dying days of the year, the young physiotherapy intern had lost her battle for life in a Singapore hospital – 13 days after a trip to see a film with a friend ended in her being brutally tortured and raped by six men in a moving bus.
She was left, stripped and bloody, virtually for dead on that cold Dec 16 night, so grievously injured that her intestines had to be taken out. Now she is dead.
The six accused, including one suspected juvenile, are in jail and all of society in the dock. All six will now face murder charge.
The woman passed away peacefully at 4.45 a.m. with her family and Indian diplomats by her side, Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital said.
“She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain,” hospital official Kevin Loh said. “We are humbled by the privilege of being tasked to care for her in her final struggle.”
The ripples were felt in Singapore, where people queued up outside the Indian high commission on Grange Road to pay tribute to the doughty woman from a humble family in India’s Uttar Pradesh state.
Questions also arose on why she was shifted to Singapore when her health was so precarious. And the government was the target. For lax policing that led to the incident, and for taking the risky decision to move her.
The body is to be flown back to India Saturday evening in a special aircraft.
As introspection continued on the vulnerability of women, the legal framework to prevent aggravated sexual assaults and ways to stem such crimes, there were tears and protests.
From politicians, celebrities, students and domestic workers. Men and women, everybody was a stakeholder. Many pushed for the death penalty but there were also voices advising against such extreme steps.
The president termed the young woman — who had told her family she did not want to die — “a true hero”.
“…let us resolve that this death will not be in vain,” he added.
The prime minister spoke out in almost the same words, saying that it was up to “us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain”.
The reticent Sonia Gandhi said – twice in two days – that we “pledge that she will get justice and that her fight will not have been in vainâ€¦”
Others spoke up too. Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan said he was ashamed of being a man. “I promise I will fight with your voice,” he said in a tribute to the “brave little girl”.
And actress-activist Shabana Azmi said: “Our impotence stares us in the face.”
India’s civil society agreed. And gathered in their thousands.
Though there was a virtual lockdown in Delhi’s city centre, protesters gathered at Jantar Mantar area close by and the anger spilled over. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was booed away.
The bus stop at Munirka, where the woman boarded the bus for that last ill-fated ride, piled up with flowers and scores of posters.
Many people across the country felt that the dead woman could have been one amongst them.
But even in this cathartic moment of collective grief, reports came in of harassment at Jantar Mantar.
And just three days ago, an 18-year-old victim of gang-rape committed suicide in Patiala, Punjab, because police had refused to register a case and humiliated her by asking difficult questions.
This should be India’s wake-up moment. But was it?