Shocked Indians are mourning the death of a woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi nearly two weeks ago in an ordeal that galvanized people to demand greater protection for women from sexual violence.
Mourners began gathering at Jantar Mantar in the capital on Saturday to express their grief and demand stronger protection for women and the death penalty for rape, which is now punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment.
Dozens of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University in south Delhi marched silently to the bus stop from where the rape victim and her friend had boarded the bus on December 16.
They carried placards reading “She is not with us but her story must awaken us.”
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was aware of the emotions the attack has stirred and that it was up to all Indians to ensure that the young woman’s death would not have been in vain.
The 23-year-old medical student victim “passed away peacefully” at 4:45 am (2045 GMT) on Saturday at Mount Elizabeth hospital in Singapore with her family and officials of the Indian Embassy by her side, Kevin Loh, the chief executive of the hospital, said in a statement.
After 10 days at a hospital in New Delhi, the Indian capital, the woman was brought on Thursday to Mount Elizabeth, which specialises in multi-organ transplants.
Loh said the woman had been in extremely critical condition since Thursday, and by late Friday her condition had taken a turn for the worse, with her vital signs deteriorating.
“She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds, but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome,” Loh said.
Her body is to be flown back to India later in the day.
The frightening nature of the crime shocked Indians, who have come out in the thousands for almost daily demonstrations.
As news of the victim’s death reached New Delhi early Saturday, hundreds of policemen sealed off the high-security India Gate area, where the seat of India’s government is located.
Indian authorities also closed 10 metro stations and banned vehicles from some main roads in the heart of New Delhi, where demonstrators have converged since the attack to demand improved women’s rights.
The woman, who has not been identified, and a male friend were returning home from the cinema by bus on December 16 when six men on the bus beat them with metal rods and repeatedly raped the woman.
Media said a rod was used in the rape, causing internal injuries. Both were thrown from the bus. The male friend survived the attack.
New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India’s major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures.
Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011.