(Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su)
The grieving father of a 23-year-old woman, who died last week after being brutally gang-raped and assaulted in a moving bus in India's national capital, says when he last spoke to her in the hospital on Christmas, she gestured she was going to heaven.
"She gestured with her fingers that she was going to heaven," BBC quoted the father, a Hindu by religion and whose name is being withheld, as saying on Wednesday, the day before police were expected to formally charge five of the six suspects, aged between 18 and 35, with rape and murder.
Amid calls for capital punishment for all the accused, the sixth accused has claimed he is juvenile and police are conducting tests to determine his real age.
Police records say the underage suspect raped the 23-year-old physiotherapy student twice after she was hit with iron rods and fell unconscious. He extracted her intestine with his bare hands and suggested she be thrown off the moving vehicle devoid of her clothes, according to The Hindustan Times.
Law provides for a maximum sentence of three years in a correctional home for a juvenile.
"The juvenile should be punished first...he was the one who lured my daughter into the bus and tortured her most mercilessly. He should be hanged like the other five accused," the victim's father told Economic Times.
On Dec. 19, three days after the heinous incident, the victim, who is known by several pseudonyms including Nirbhaya (fearless) and Damini (after a Hindi language film about a rape case), had told her mother, "I want to live."
Doctors described her as "psychologically composed and optimistic about future." On Dec. 26, she was airlifted from a hospital in Delhi to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, where she died on Dec. 29.
"One day [in the hospital], she held her mother and whispered, 'Mommy, I am sorry, I am sorry,'" her father said.
The victim, who was among the top students in her class, wanted to earn well and repay her father, who is employed as a loader at Delhi's international airport and had sold his ancestral land to fund her studies.
"I remember asking her once, who are your friends?" her father told BBC. "And she replied, 'Dad, it's only my books I am friends with.'"
The woman was born and brought up in south-west Delhi. Her parents migrated from a small village in the nearby Uttar Pradesh state in 1983. Her father said she wanted to build a hospital in their native village. She always found a way to get what she wanted. "If she made up her mind to have a sweet, even the shopkeeper had to relent," he said.
"She studied day and night. We would not even know when she slept and woke up," her brother was quoted as saying. "She was not scared of anyone. We could never imagine that such a fate would befall her. She must never have imagined it."
The tragic incident took place on the night of Dec. 16, when the woman and his friend boarded a private bus – being driven by joyriders – after watching a movie in South Delhi. The juvenile reportedly invited them in, saying the bus was going where they wanted to go.
The six men inside the bus began harassing the woman. When her friend intervened, they hit him on his head with an iron rod several times until he was unconscious. When the woman tried to rescue him, they hit her with the same rod. They took turns raping and assaulting her. According to reports, injuries indicated that a blunt object, possibly a rusted wheel jack, may have been used for penetration.
The accused then threw the two from the moving bus, and tried to run over the victim. Her friend, who had gained consciousness by then, dragged her to a corner to save her.
Friends of the victim told Agence France-Presse that she was engaged to the friend who was with her. "They had made all the wedding preparations and had planned a wedding party in Delhi," friend and neighbor Meena Rai was quoted as saying. The ceremony was reportedly due to take place in February.
The incident has caused outrage across India where thousands of citizens are calling for tough rape laws and better protection for women.
A total of 635 rapes were reported to the city's police between January and November 2012, according to the Press Trust of India. Of the 754 suspects arrested, just one has so far been convicted.
"Such crimes are not against the body of a woman but her soul," Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir said on Wednesday.