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Rape victim dies in Singapore, an entire nation mourns

Rape victim dies in Singapore, an entire nation mournsNew Delhi/Singapore, Dec 29 - The unnamed and unidentified gang-rape victim who became the face of courage against savage odds died in a Singapore hospital Saturday, leaving all of India stunned and shaken with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee echoing millions in saying her death should not be in vain.

In the dying days of the year, the young physiotherapy intern lost her battle for life far away from home in a Singapore hospital - 13 days after a trip to a south Delhi mall to see a film with a friend ended in her being brutally tortured and raped by six men in a moving bus.

She was left, stripped and bloody, virtually for dead on that cold December night, so grievously injured that her intestines had to be taken out. Now she is dead.

The six accused, including one suspected juvenile, are in jail and all of society in the dock. All six will now face murder charge.

The woman, only 23, passed away peacefully at 4.45 a. m. with her family and Indian diplomats by her side, Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital official Kelvin Loh said. The trauma was "too severe for her to overcome", he said.

Eight specialists had struggled to save the doughty woman, whose father had to sell his ancestral land to fund her education.

"She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain," Kevin said. "We are humbled by the privilege of being tasked to care for her in her final struggle."

"The girl of course was unconscious... I must say they (the family) bore the entire process with a great deal of fortitude and a great deal of courage," added India's High Commissioner to Singapore T. C. A. Raghavan.

Questions also arose on why she was shifted to Singapore when her health was so precarious. And the government was the target. For lax policing that led to the incident and for taking the risky decision to move her.

The body will be flown back Saturday evening in a special aircraft.

Details of the funeral rites for the woman, who united the entire nation in anguish and grief, were not revealed.

As introspection continued on the vulnerability of women, the legal framework to prevent aggravated sexual assaults and ways to stem such crimes, there were tears and protests. From politicians, celebrities, students and domestic workers. Men and women, everybody was a stakeholder.

Calling the young woman -- who had been communicating with her family till almost the end and said she did want to die -- "a true hero", the president said she "symbolizes the best in Indian youth and women".

"At the same time, let us resolve that this death will not be in vain," he added.

The prime minister spoke out in almost the same words - that it was up to "us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain" and India becomes "a demonstrably better and safer place for women to live in".

The government said it would take urgent steps to crack down on crime against women and fast-track the prosecution of the accused.

"... Our impotence stares us in the face. May SHE become the wake-up call our country needs. We must soul search. Female foeticide; inequal access to nutrition, education, health; no decision making powers; dowry demands; rapes rampant. INDIA WAKE UP," is what actress-activist Shabana Azmi said.

In a rare moment of unanimity, India's civil society agreed.

Though there was a virtual lockdown in Delhi's city centre, protesters gathered at Jantar Mantar area close by. A policeman had died in one angry protest in the capital and Delhi Police was clearly taking no chances.

But the mood was more sombre this Saturday morning. A stunned silence had taken over as people gathered in their hundreds to show their solidarity with the woman who had fought so long and hard. There was the realisation that this could have been any of them, or their friends, sisters and mothers.

And it not just in Delhi. In Lucknow, in Mumbai and in Bangalore, where a mother tried to hold back her tears: "I have a daughter and I don't want this to happen to her."

Was this India's wake-up moment? (IANS)