Ram Singh, the 33-year-old chief accused in the sensational December 16 gangrape which shook the nation and made international headlines, was found hanging from an improvised rope inside his cell in west Delhi’s high-security Tihar prison on Monday morning.
The rope was made from threads of a cotton mat he had been using, the police said.
The incident comes as a major embarrassment for the prison authorities and puts under question India’s jail reforms and safety for high-profile suspects and criminals.
Singh and his five friends had allegedly raped a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a moving bus, shoved a rod into her causing her intestines to spill out, and tried to drive the bus over her and her boyfriend that night.
The brutality resulted in her death 12 days later. Singh was the driver of the bus and headed the gang.
Singh’s body was found hanging inside his cell at sub-jail 3 by a warder of head constable rank at around 5.45am, 15 minutes before the inmates were to undergo the 6am mandatory headcount.
Three of his cellmates were apparently asleep in the adjoining enclosure. They told the police they had not heard or seen anything thing that might have woken them up.
A first information report was lodged at west Delhi's Hari Nagar police station.
While officials in Tihar — the largest prison facility in Asia — said it “seemed like suicide”, Singh's family and lawyers called it a cold-blooded murder.
“He had a deformed arm. How could he have done this with just one good arm? He has been murdered and a CBI enquiry is needed to get to the bottom of this,” said his father Mange Lal, who lives in a south Delhi slum. “The cops had started torturing him even before he was sent to jail. In jail, he was tortured and sodomised by other inmates.”
But Tihar jail's chief director general (Delhi prisons) Vimla Mehra told HT: “Ram Singh was found hanging. The judicial probe is on. Let's wait for its report and the postmortem report, which will certainly answer all the questions.”
Mehra said usual precautions had been taken, including maintaining a discreet watch on Singh and four other co-accused (who are lodged in sub-jail number 4 and 7). She denied Singh was on a suicide watch.
The sixth accused, who has been declared a minor, is lodged at an observation home in north Delhi. Singh's cell was 15X12 feet and divided into portions. His body was found hanging from a horizontal iron bar which was part of a metal frame working as the ceiling roof eight feet above in the cell's front portion, where he had spent his last night alone.
Though Singh had played an hour of badminton on Sunday evening with his three cellmates, had dinner with them inside the cell's back portion and was seen chatting with them till around midnight, he was apparently depressed.
A jail source told HT: “Singh's three cell mates have stated that he had told them a few times since Saturday that he was dejected and crushed since he was destined to get a death sentence. His sense of despair was enhanced greatly by his realistaion that his younger brother Mukesh, a co-accused in the rape case, would get death as well and that will almost finish his family.”
Singh was considered smelly and foul-mouthed, and was loathed by most inmates.
“At around 5.45am this morning, the warder found him hanging from the 8-feet high iron grill fitted in the front enclosure of the 15x12 feet cell for ventilation,” said a jail official on condition of anonymity. Sources said the suicide had probably occurred between 3.30am and 5.30am. Everything had seemed fine when the guard changed at 3.30am.
“A plastic bucket was lying on the floor and an improvised rope, made of threads of the mat that Singh was using,” said an official. “The bucket was used by Singh to reach the iron grill, tie the rope around a vertical iron bar and hang by the neck.”
Singh's post-mortem will be conducted at the AIIMS on Tuesday. “We are surprised but not sad,” the victim's father said. “He would have anyway been hanged. We wanted him to be hanged publicly. Now we are waiting for the other five to be hanged.”