On March 10th, Ram Singh was found hanging from the ceiling in his jail cell in Delhi. He was one of the six men accused of the brutal gang rape and ultimately death of Jyoti Singh Pandey. She was 23, a physiotherapy student, and boarded a private bus driven by Singh the night of her attack.
Her demise sparked protests the country hadn't seen in a generation and brought to light the cases and sad fates of several other women. A larger dialogue also began as women in the country, demanding the same rights as young men, protested alongside them. PolicyMic covered the protests and trial here.
News of Singh's suicide came as a source of shock, accompanied by the usual expected comments on the long-corrupt law enforcement in Delhi and the rest of the country. Raghav Chopra, a Delhi-based news editor at the Hindustan Times, told us that "the incident will not spark off the anti-rape protests, those are pretty much done and dusted, but it has sparked a fresh debate about safety in prisons."
Many PolicyMic have spoken to have commented that perhaps Singh deserved his end, but others felt cheated of rightful justice. The strange case of his death, which apparently occurred while his cellmates slept nearby in India's maximum security prison (which is equipped with camera surveillance), brings up several questions and conspiracy theories. A investigation has revealed nothing except a distraught suspect who admitted to a heinous crime. However, Dilip D'Souza points out in the Daily Beast that the "truth is, Ram Singh was too loathed a man for answers to be diligently sought."
Indian officials saw an opportunity for the government and judicial system to finally get it right with this trial, placing it in a fast-track court and fulfilling their duty to the cries of the public for due process and swift closure. Singh was central to that idea, since he was the first of the accused to reveal gruesome details and a timeline for that night, much of it corroborated by Pandey's friend who was also attacked on the bus. The trial will go on, of course, but it remains to be seen if the others will change their stories now, given Singh's absence. Some worry that the justice system may actually work in their favor if claims of police torture are verified. The case remains in fast-track court.
Larger issues loom as well in the capital city. Chopra points out to us that India's "government meanwhile is fighting a political battle to enact a new anti-rape law. While the common public sentiment is calling for a strict law with harsh punishment, political compulsions are proving to be a stumbling block and they have failed to reach a consensus on the issue." It's worth pointing out that a similar debate raged on in the US as well, as the Violence Against Women Act was finally renewed despite major opposition.
India's problems are once again brought into the harsh light of reality, and it seems up to young politicians like Rahul Gandhi and female politicians to find their voices. Don't women in India deserve better?