Gangrape victim dies, Delhi braces for protests

The 23-year-old whose gangrape on a bus in New Delhi sparked protests all across the country died on Saturday in a Singapore hospital after suffering severe organ failure. As authorities braced for more unrest on the streets, police reinforcements could be seen fanning out across the centre of New Delhi ahead of the return of her body later in the day.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the tributes to the victim and urged protesters to channel their anger constructively. 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 will not have been in vain.

According to doctors in Singapore, the student lost her fight for life at 4:45 am (2045 GMT), nearly two weeks after the brutal gangrape.

"She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain," Kelvin Loh, the chief executive of Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said in a statement.

"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."

She was airlifted to the hospital in Singapore on Thursday.

Singh said he was deeply saddened by the death and that protests sparked by the case were "understandable". "We have already seen the emotions and energies this incident has generated," he wrote on his website. "These are perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change."

The body will be embalmed then released to her family in the afternoon, said workers at funeral parlour Hindu Casket. The decision to fly her out of India by air ambulance was taken at a meeting of Singh's cabinet on Wednesday and the government had promised to pay all her medical bills.

As news of the victim's death reached New Delhi early Saturday, hundreds of policemen sealed off the high-security India Gate area in anticipation of more protests.

The area is home to the President's palace, the Prime Minister's office and key defence, external affairs and home ministries. The area near India Gate had seen battles between protesters and police for days after the attack on the girl.

Ten metro stations in the vicinity also were closed Saturday, said Rajan Bhagat, the New Delhi police spokesman. Police were allowing people to assemble at the Jantar Mantar and Ramlila grounds, the main areas allotted for protests in New Delhi, Bhagat said.

The protesters are demanding stronger protection for women and the death penalty for rape, which is now punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment.

Women face daily harassment across India, ranging from catcalls on the streets, groping and touching in public transport to rape.

Singh said he understands the angry reaction to the attack and hopes all Indians will work together to make appropriate changes.

"These are perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change," the prime minister said in a statement Saturday.

"It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channel these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action."

He said the government was examining the penalties for crimes such as rape "to enhance the safety and security of women."

"I hope that the entire political class and civil society will set aside narrow sectional interests and agendas to help us all reach the end that we all desire — making India a demonstrably better and safer place for women to live in," Singh said.

Mamta Sharma, head of the state-run National Commission for Women, said the "time has come for strict laws" to stop violence against women.

"The society has to change its mindset to end crimes against women," she said.

Several celebrities reacted with sadness Saturday over the woman's death.

Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan tweeted, "Her body has passed away, but her soul shall forever stir our hearts."

Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the government's only concern was to ensure the victim received "the best treatment possible".

Singh has ordered an official inquiry into the gangrape and new laws to protect women as well as stiffer penalties for the worst sex crimes.

And he said Delhi police would soon launch a drive to recruit more female officers as a confidence-building measure.

The government has also announced plans to post the photos, names and addresses of convicted rapists on official websites to publicly shame them.

The campaign will begin in Delhi, which has been dubbed India's "rape capital".

The Delhi gangrape has shone the spotlight on a crime that occurs on a daily basis in India, with most such assaults taking place in rural areas.

Policemen gather at the epicenter of previous protests the near India Gate in New Delhi. Reuters

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been battling criticism that it was tone-deaf to the outcry and heavy handed in its response to the protests in the Indian capital.

"It is deeply saddening and just beyond words. The police and government definitely have to do something more," said Sharanya Ramachandran, an Indian national working as an engineer in Singapore.

"They should bring in very severe punishment for such cases. They should start recognising that it is a big crime."

"Significant brain injuries"
The Singapore hospital said earlier that the woman had suffered "significant brain injury" and was surviving against the odds. She had already undergone three abdominal operations before being flown to Singapore.

Protests over the lack of safety for women erupted across India after the attack, culminating last weekend in pitched battles between police and protesters in the heart of New Delhi.

New Delhi has been on edge since the weekend clashes.

Hundreds of policemen have been deployed on the streets of the capital and streets leading to the main protest site, the India Gate war memorial, have been shut for long periods, severely disrupting traffic in the city of 16 million.

Commentators and sociologists say the rape has tapped into a deep well of frustration that many Indians feel over what they see as weak governance and poor leadership on social and economic issues.

Many protesters have complained that Singh's government has done little to curb the abuse of women in the country of 1.2 billion.

A global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found that India was the worst place to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery.

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.

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