India gang rape accused found dead in prison

Policemen stand guard as an ambulance believed to be carrying Ram Singh leaves Tihar Jail in New Delhi. Picture: AFP
Policemen stand guard as an ambulance believed to be carrying Ram Singh leaves Tihar Jail in New Delhi. Picture: AFP
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THE alleged ringleader of the gang rape and murder case that shocked India was found dead in his cell.

Ram Singh – who neighbours claimed was violent, drank heavily and used to harass women by peeking at them as they undressed – was accused along with four other men and a juvenile of raping and fatally wounding a 23-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi in December. All six pleaded not guilty, although police said Singh had confessed to the crime during interrogation.

Authorities in New Delhi’s Tihar jail said Singh hanged himself before dawn in a cell he shared with three other men.

In 2011, 68 prisoners in India killed themselves and another eight were killed by fellow inmates, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau. Tihar is badly overcrowded and its 12,000 prisoners are nearly twice as many as the jail was designed to hold.

Singh’s father yesterday rejected the idea his son had taken his own life, saying he believed he was murdered.

Mange Lal Singh said: “He confessed about his mistake, then why would he commit suicide? He was prepared for any punishment the government would have given him.

“Ram Singh did not commit suicide, he was murdered. He was first murdered and then his clothes were torn off to hang his corpse in his cell.”

Mr Singh said his son had been raped by other inmates and repeatedly threatened by both inmates and guards. However, Mr Singh said he visited his son four days ago, when he appeared to be fine and gave no hint of any despair that could drive him to take his own life.

Legal experts said Singh’s death does not undermine the prosecution’s case against the other accused, which was largely based on DNA evidence and the testimony of the rape victim before she died, and that of the friend with her at the time.

“There will be no impact on the trial. This is a case of gang rape where all are held equally responsible, you can’t say one is more to blame than the other,” said Rebecca Mammen John, a Supreme Court lawyer.

Ram Singh, 34, and his brother Mukesh, who was also accused in the case, were originally from the western state of Rajasthan. Like millions of Indians in search of work and better prospects, the family migrated to the capital in the 1990s.

Ram Singh found work as a bus driver, a job he stuck with even after an accident in 2009 in which he fractured his right arm so badly that doctors had to insert a rod to support it.

He later appeared on a reality TV show in a compensation dispute with a bus owner, who in turn accused Singh of “drunken, negligent and rash driving”. In the show, the moustachioed, slightly-built man was seen walking stiffly and holding his right arm at an awkward angle.

Singh and three of the other co-accused lived in Ravidass, a poor pocket in the otherwise largely ­middle-class neighbourhood of RK Puram, whose tree-lined boulevards contrast with the narrow lanes and open sewers of the slum.

Residents say Singh, a heavy drinker with a violent temper, was a menace to an otherwise peaceful neighbourhood.

They said they remember an elderly woman confronting Singh about why he was always drunk. He is said to have replied: “Let me have my way. I will be world famous like this one day.”

One neighbour, Priya, 19, remembered Singh as being a “disgusting” man.

She said: “Sometimes, while we were changing clothes or bathing, he would peep into our house. When confronted, he would be very rude and say it’s his right to stand anywhere.”

Singh eloped with a neighbour, a married mother of three, more than a decade ago, residents say. She died in 2008 and Singh eventually came back to the slum.

Although he had few friends, one slum resident said Singh was often seen with four people who were later to become his fellow accused in the gang rape case.

The police report used to charge the accused draws a ­picture of Singh as the ringleader of the group. On the night of 16 December, the men gathered at his house for dinner, where he is said to have hatched a plan of taking the bus to look for a woman to rape.

The police say they found him sitting in the blood-stained school bus, wearing a bloodied T-shirt, the morning after the crime. A DNA test revealed that the blood belonged to the rape victim, the report said.

After the attack, Singh tried to wipe the bus clean with the victims’ clothes, then made a fire to burn the clothes and other evidence. Witnesses from the neighbourhood he lived in came to the fire to warm themselves, the report said.

The case brought infamy to the Ravidass slum, residents say.

One man said: “This has become famous for wrong reasons and has made our lives hell.”

And an autorickshaw driver in the cramped Ravidass Camp slum added: “People had forgotten about this whole thing. Now all of sudden, this idiot hangs himself and look how this is in focus again.

“He won’t let us live in peace. Whatever peace we were slowly getting has now gone again.”