What Ram Singh’s Life—and Death—Says About Violence and Inequity in India

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When police found Ram Singh on the afternoon of Dec. 17, the day after the rape, he was sitting in the bus, parked outside Ravidas, according to police documents. On another afternoon, he might have been driving students to and from the school that contracted the bus out. On that day, the bus was still damp inside, apparently having just been washed out. Singh tried to flee the cops as they approached, but he was, in their words, “overpowered and apprehended.” He was a wearing a green and black T-shirt with a torn collar that was spotted with blood, along with his plastic sandals. According to police, “on sustained interrogation,” he confessed to his involvement in the gang rape the night before, and went to identify all of his alleged co-conspirators in the crime. The report says Singh admitted to trying to run over the victims with the bus after he and the others threw them out, in order to protect their identities. It says he also admitted to using the victims’ clothes to wipe flesh and blood out of the inside of the bus, and then lighting them in a fire, around which “a few persons of the locality had gathered to warm their hands.” Why had they done it? According to police, Singh and the co-accused say they did it for fun—“to pick up a female passenger to have sex and make merry.”

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Indians may now never know what Singh did that day. Officials told Indian media that sometime between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. on March 11, he hanged himself in his cell. V.K. Anand, the defense lawyer hired by Singh’s family to represent the brothers, says he doesn’t see how Singh could have killed himself in a crowded, high-security cell, and suspects foul play. Singh’s parents, in New Delhi at the time, have also expressed doubts about how their son died and was treated during his incarceration. Interior Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde called the death a “major lapse” in security. He said that while preliminary findings suggested suicide, the government had also launched a formal inquiry into his death.

Will Dec. 16 indeed herald lasting change? As the weeks tick by, and the headlines about rape around the country have begun falling off the front pages, some Indians are dubious. “Tipping points only happen over glasses of single-malt whisky in the drawing rooms of Delhi,” says Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. “There are no real tipping points in India … There is no bottom to how far we can we go down.” And yet. Shortly after the atrocity in New Delhi, a girl was also subject to a brutal gang rape—in Ram Singh’s Karauli district, where the crime is common. What was uncommon was that the girl’s assailants were arrested. The family of the Dec. 16 victim deserves closure. But perhaps the wider justice is an India where no one—whether they lead a hardscrabble existence  in a slum or are quietly heading home at night—slides off the map.

With reporting by Nilanjana Bhowmick / New Delhi and Srikant Tripathy / Karauli
MORE: One Billion Rising: An End to Violence Against Women

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