Indian policemen stand guard as an ambulance leaves the main entrance of… (Manan Vatsyayana / AFP/Getty…)
NEW DELHI — The alleged leader of a gang that brutally raped a woman in India three months ago, setting off massive protests, soul-searching and reforms, committed suicide in his cell early Monday by using fabric to fashion a noose, according to officials and local news media.
Ram Singh was one of five adults and a juvenile charged with picking up a 23-year-old physiotherapy student and her male friend in a commuter bus in mid-December. Singh was the driver and "mastermind," police said.
After allegedly beating the young couple with metal rods and raping the woman in the moving bus, they reportedly dumped them naked along the road. She died two weeks later of internal injuries at a Singapore hospital. In a futile effort to save her life, surgeons removed most of her intestines when gangrene set in.
The assault sparked clashes between demonstrators and police amid calls to hire more female police officers, establish fast-track courts for sexual assault and increase gender sensitivity training in schools and government offices. A package of laws was introduced in February that includes the death penalty for extreme rape cases.
Singh's lawyer, V.K. Anand, told local television networks Monday that his client was satisfied with the legal proceedings and had no reason to kill himself. "I doubt if this is a case of suicide," Anand told the CNN-IBN television network.
The trial of the five adults began in February in a fast-track court. Otherwise, trials can take a decade in India's creaky judicial system. If convicted, they could face the death penalty. The juvenile, who according to some police reports was the most violent attacker, faces a maximum of three years in detention, fueling calls for tougher sentences against minors.
"He knew he would be given death penalty, so he hanged himself," the victim's brother, whose name wasn't revealed, told CNN-IBN off-camera on Monday. "We wanted him and others to be publicly hanged. He should have been punished."
Media reports said Singh was in a cell with two others at the time and used part of a mat to hang himself. His body was taken to New Delhi's Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital, where a postmortem was to be performed. Jail officials said Singh had been on suicide watch, and they would investigate how his death happened. Local news media, citing unidentified officials, said it took place around 5 a.m.
Singh's neighbors in the south Delhi slum of R.K. Puram, where he and several other gang members lived, described him as a heavy drinker with a temper. One woman related to him by marriage said he beat up her husband.