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India grieves as gang-rape victim dies in Singapore

New Delhi - 

Thousands of Indians joined protests to voice their grief for the victim of a gang-rape after she died in a Singapore hospital on Saturday.

They may never know her name, but the protesters were determined that the gang-rape victim would serve as a 'tipping point' in the battle to end a culture of violence against women in India.

The demonstrations passed peacefully, however, as mourners vowed the 23-year-old medical student's killing would serve as a tipping point for how the nation deals with violence against women.

The victim's gold-coloured coffin was prepared in a funeral parlour in Singapore, ready to be flown back to India, accompanied by her parents who were at her bedside when she was pronounced dead at Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital before dawn.

Draped in a white flag, it was finally driven out of the Hindu Casket funeral home shortly before 9.00pm and was believed headed for the airport.

After previous protests had been broken up by riot police, Saturday's passed off peacefully.

However when the Chief Minister of New Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, tried to join the crowds she was roundly heckled and quickly withdrew.

Some of the protesters, who also gathered in outlying areas of the capital, carried banners that read "Hang the Rapist", accompanied by a picture of a noose.

Protestors who gathered in the Jantar Mantar thoroughfare in central Delhi, scene of the largest protest, said the unnamed student's death was a wake-up call for a country in denial about the levels of violence that women face.

“The rape of this girl and the trauma she experienced is not new and this has happened in the past," said Anjali Raval, a housewife who took part in a rally in the centre of the Indian capital on Saturday.

"But this case has acted like a pressure cooker blast effect," added the 35-year-old. "It is high time we woke up and fought for women's safety."

While police turned much of downtown Delhi into a no-go area on Saturday in the aftermath of the young student's death in Singapore, authorities did allow a small protest to take place in Jantar Mantar, a traditional rallying point.

Women and men took part in the show of solidarity for the unnamed woman whose ordeal on a bus at the hands of a gang of rapists two weekends ago triggered an outpouring of pent-up anger and despair.

New Delhi has been dubbed the "rape capital" of India, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures.

Gang-rapes are so frequent that they are barely mentioned in the newspapers while victims are often deterred from reporting attacks for fear of shaming their families or that they will receive the brush-off from police.

But Bela Rana, a Delhi-based lawyer, said that the wave of protests that followed the assault on December 16 represented a sea change and that women were no longer prepared to suffer in silence.

"Yes we are aware that this is not the first case, nor will it be the last case of gang-rape in India, but it is clear that we will not tolerate sex crimes anymore," said Rana.

Although the victim has not been named, she is known to have been a medical student who had spent the evening watching 'The Life of Pi' at a mall in southern Delhi before she was picked up by the six rapists who would later kill her.

In a blog widely circulated on social media Saturday, the author Nilanjana Roy said the tragedy had touched so many people as she was "one just like us".

"The one whose battered body stood for all the anonymous women in this country whose rapes and deaths are a footnote in the left-hand column of the newspaper," she wrote.

"Sometimes, an atrocity bites so deep that we have no armour against it, and that was what happened with the 23-year-old medical student, the one who left a cinema hall and boarded the wrong bus, whose intestines were so badly damaged that the injuries listed on the FIR (medical) report made hardened doctors, and then the capital city, cry for her pain."

Aakar Kamath, a college professor who was among the men at the protest, said it was high time a deep-rooted hatred of women had to be eradicated.

"Yes, the woman has died but her story will always be remembered as many Indians are now willing to fight against misogyny," he said.

Kamath added her death should not be treated as the end of a chapter but rather as a "tipping point" in the struggle to ensure that women can exercise their "right to live without fear".

Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and female infanticide have rarely entered mainstream political discourse but the deadly attack has put gender issues centre stage in Indian politics.

"Better late than never," said Rana.

Who said what

President Pranab Mukherjee

She was a brave and courageous girl who fought till the very last minute for her dignity and her life. She is a true hero and symbolises the best in Indian youth and women. The nation will mourn the passing of this brave daughter of India. At the same time, let us resolve that this death will not be in vain. We will do everything possible to ensure that such an incident never happens again.

 

Vice President Hamid Ansari

A young, promising life has been brutally snatched away in most tragic circumstances. Not only has the family lost a daughter and a sister, but every Indian today is feeling the sense of loss. I hope this heart-rending tragedy would compel us as a people to focus on social norms and practices which are violative of human rights and an impediment to progress in the modern world.

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

I join the nation in conveying to her family and friends my deepest condolences at this terrible loss. I want to tell them and the nation that while she may have lost her battle for life, it is up to us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain. We have already seen the emotions and energies this incident has generated. These are perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change. It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channelise these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action.

 

Congress president Sonia Gandhi

We pledge that she will get justice and that her fight will not have been in vain. All Indians grieve as though they have lost their own beloved daughter, their cherished sister. Our hearts go out to her parents and her family. The whole country shares their pain.

 

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde

Her death will not go in vain. There will be maximum punishment for the accused. This incident is a lesson.

 

Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad

A brave and courageous girl who fought till the very last minute for her dignity and life. She is a true hero and symbolises the best in Indian youth and women.

 

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj

Her death has shaken the conscience of the nation. We must wake up and make India safe for daughters.

 

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit

Our hearts are burning with grief and shame and this is not the moment for speeches or words, but for deep reflection among ourselves, within ourselves.

 

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi

Deeply saddened and distressed by the news of India's braveheart daughter passing away. My deepest condolences to her family.

 

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee

The centre must ensure that the culprits are severely punished. I feel there is a need to amend criminal laws and bring in more stringent punishment for the offence of rape. Though amendment is a central subject, we will provide all cooperation.

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