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V.K. Anand, centre, lawyer for Ram Singh, speaks with the media at the hospital where Singh's body is scheduled to arrive for autopsy in New Delhi March 11, 2013. (Adnan Abidi/REUTERS)
V.K. Anand, centre, lawyer for Ram Singh, speaks with the media at the hospital where Singh's body is scheduled to arrive for autopsy in New Delhi March 11, 2013. (Adnan Abidi/REUTERS)

Delhi gang-rape suspect hanged himself, jail officials say Add to ...

All five men have pleaded not guilty to all charges. Court officials said the case against the other men would proceed and would be unaffected since Mr. Singh was not a witness. Details of the trial are under publication ban. The latest hearing in the case, slated for Monday afternoon, did not proceed due to an unrelated lawyers’ strike.

“There is already an inquiry which has been ordered by Tihar Jail on suicide of the main accused,” R. P. N. Singh, deputy minister of home affairs, told reporters. “We are inquiring into the matter.”

Ram Singh was from a village in the northwestern state of Rajasthan; he migrated to Delhi as a child with his parents, and worked alongside them doing construction for a few dollars a day. He lived in a shantytown not far from where the victim was picked up on the bus. Mr. Singh had a complicated personal life; he is reported to have eloped with a neighbour – who was a married mother of three children – but she is said to have died a few years ago. He was now said to be raising a five-year-old son although that child may, in fact, have been his brother’s. Neighbours have described him as having a violent and volatile personality.

Mr. Singh’s apparent suicide was greeted by the Delhi public with a resounding air of “good riddance.” While a few judicial-reform advocates tried to raise the issue of presumption of innocence, many people seemed to believe that Mr. Singh had simply saved the Indian state the work of carrying out his inevitable execution. “He got what was coming,” said Aarti Gupta, a homemaker in a middle-class neighbourhood, who was glued to the television news. “Why should he have been alive even one more day?”

IN PRISON, SUICIDE OR MURDER DEEMED EQUALLY PLAUSIBLE

Suicide or murder: They are equally plausible explanations for the death in prison of Ram Singh, according to Kiran Bedi, the retired head of India’s prisons.

“Prison is a community and prison accepts some crimes and not others,” she said. Police officers who end up in jail are at risk of attack by other inmates and so are “those who commit crimes of the Ram Singh kind, who committed a brutal attack on a young woman and the whole world knew about it.” His offence was well-known in the prison, she said, and it made him a target for violence from other inmates.

But because of the “overwhelming evidence” that was being presented to the fast-track court in his trial, he likely felt “hopelessness” and might have required regular psychiatric support, she added. “Whether that was happening needs to be part of the inquiry. His lawyer said he was happy – so was this just a mood swing?”

Ms. Bedi said that if prison officials had assessed Mr. Singh as not requiring a suicide watch, then it made sense he wasn’t supervised. She rejected the idea that it might have behooved prison officials to be especially watchful of Mr. Singh’s mental state and security, given that the perceived police failures that allowed the bus rape to occur in the first place have led to widespread scorn for Indian law enforcement.

“That’s like being wiser after the fact,” she said. “He was not all alone, he was not in isolation. You’ve got 12,000 people in there, and if you start asking should we watch this or watch that – you’d never stop.”

Ms. Bedi joined the Indian Police Service in 1972, its first female officer. Most recently, she had been an outspoken activist against corruption and for governance reform.

But her most lasting impact may be the sweeping reforms she made at Tihar – said to be Asia’s largest jail – when she was director general of prisons in the mid-1990s. She introduced yoga classes, computer labs, libraries and a music program; she championed the idea that prisoners could be reformed. She set up vocational training that grew into a factory; today, Tihar prisoners produce everything from cookies to cushions to picture frames under the TJ’s (Tihar Jail) brand.

She said that Mr. Singh’s fate could have been utterly different if he had admitted guilt and pursued redemption, rather than the not-guilty plea put forth, she speculated, at the urging of his lawyers. “If he had made an early plea for mercy, he would get a second chance inside the prison. … He could continue to meet his family, he could live without guilt and serve the community. When we have an open-and-shut case, I wish we had a [legal] fraternity that allowed you to ask for mercy, and live, and enter reform programs. He could have evolved into a human being there.”

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