The young woman whose rape and torture by six hoodlums on a Delhi bus shook a nation’s conscience died early on Saturday, triggering a wave of grief and declarations of resolve not to let her loss go in vain.
The 23-year-old student of physiotherapy died in Singapore, where she had been airlifted by the Indian government in a last-ditch move to save her and maintain order in a capital city that threatened to erupt in fury over the attack on its streets.
“We are very sad to report that the patient passed away peacefully at 4.45am (2.15am India time) on December 29. Her family and officials from the High Commission of India were by her side,” said Kevin Loh, CEO of Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital. She had been moved there on Thursday after her condition at New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital deteriorated with a cardiac arrest.
“She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain,” Loh said of the victim who fought for her life with “great fortitude and courage”.
She was assaulted at 9.30pm on December 16 while returning to Dwarka with a friend from a movie show at a south Delhi mall. She was beaten, raped and a rusty, L-shaped iron rod forced into her body, before she and her friend were stripped and thrown out of the bus to die. The injuries were so severe her intestines had to be removed.
The woman, who had bravely resisted her assailants, amazed Safdarjung doctors with her strength of character, at one point writing a note in the hospital saying: “Mother, I want to live.”
Her body was due to be flown back in the early hours of Sunday. A 114-seater Airbus 319 was chartered by the home ministry and flown to Singapore from Delhi at 8am on Saturday with four government officials on board to bring her home.
“All arrangements have made to take her body back to India,” said TCA Raghavan, Indian high commissioner to Singapore. “She was very brave.”
Doctors who had escorted her to Singapore on the air-ambulance said she was just a “matter of a few hours” from death.
“All her organs, including her brain and heart, showed signs of caving in, but her heart was beating and the kidneys were functioning,” said Dr Yatin Mehta, head of emergency services at Gurgaon-based Medanta, who had accompanied the woman.
Just as her 13-day struggle to live again had united a nation in its anguish and outrage against sex crimes, culminating last weekend in pitched battles between public protesters and police in the capital, her death on Saturday intensified the campaign for the dignity of women in this country of 1.2 billion people, where a rape is reported every 22 minutes.
Authorities responded by announcing murder charges for the six accused, five of whom are in jail and the sixth, a suspected juvenile, in a remand home.
They also erected barricades across New Delhi and shut down 10 metro stations, fearing a heavier backlash of protests. The protests, however, were peaceful.
Condoling her death, President Pranab Mukherjee described the victim as the daughter of the nation.
Not everyone shares that sense, though.
Shabana Azmi and Shekhar Kapur said the greatest betrayal to her would be if it slipped from public memory.
"The political system's greatest hope is we will forget. Our only redemption is if we do not forget," Kapur tweeted.