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Women's activists shocked as man accused of India gang rape found dead
NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - The main accused in a high-profile gang rape and murder case in India was found dead in jail on Monday, angering some women's rights activists and lawyers who said security lapses had resulted in a miscarriage of justice that may impact the outcome of what is seen as a landmark trial.
Ram Singh, the driver of the bus in which a 23-year-old woman was raped by a group of men and fatally injured in December, was found hanging in his cell in New Delhi's Tihar jail at 5 a.m. Prison officials said he hung himself, although his family argued he did not commit suicide.
His death is a dramatic twist in a case that has provoked outrage across India.
Singh was one of five men and a juvenile on trial for the December 16 attack on the student in New Delhi that triggered nationwide protests calling for justice and intense debate about the treatment of women in largely patriarchal India.
Some lawyers said the outcome of the on-going trial of the six accused would be seen as landmark because of the level of public attention and that Singh's death in custody sent the wrong message about how seriously India takes sex crimes.
"This will certainly impact the trial. The others accused in this case will now take the opportunity to say that Ram Singh was the main conspirator and they were forced into it and as a result they can get lighter punishments," said Supreme Court lawyer Ravi Kant, who also runs a charity for trafficked victims. "They are all booked for the same offence, but if the main accused is not present, he can be used as a scapegoat."
"It is a miscarriage of justice and is unfair to the woman who was raped and murdered as he should have faced punishment if found guilty," Kant added.
Singh's family and lawyers said he did not commit suicide and said he was "happy" with the way the trial was going. Tihar prison authorities have ordered a magisterial inquiry into Singh's death.
"This is absolutely shocking. I am aghast to hear, especially when the whole nation is watching and waiting for justice to be delivered, that this man hangs himself," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, a women-rights based think-tank.
Singh and the other five accused were arrested shortly after the crime was committed and pleaded not guilty to raping and murdering the woman on a bus with tinted windows as it moved through the streets of the Indian capital at night.
The student, who was accompanied by a male friend, was repeatedly raped and tortured with a metal bar by the six accused. The couple were also severely beaten before being thrown onto a road. The woman died of internal injuries in a Singapore hospital two weeks later.
The trial of the five adult men started last month while the juvenile's trial began last week.
Ram Singh's brother Mukesh Singh, gym assistant Vinay Sharma, bus cleaner Akshay Kumar Singh and fruit vendor Pawan Kumar are the other men on trial. Under Indian law, the juvenile cannot be named.
"The trial will be impacted, irrespective of whether the Delhi police say that they have interrogated him. An investigation needs to be done to see how the prime accused managed to eliminate himself from the trial," said Poornima Advani, former head of the National Commission for Women.
"I feel shocked that (this has happened) in a case which has attracted enormous public outcry and enormous media attention."
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