A year on, grief lingers for rape victim's family

A year on, grief lingers for rape victim's family

The photographs show a young woman in a sweater and jeans smiling earnestly at the camera. Beside them is her large pink doll with reddish blonde hair. Other items include a tea mug, a half-used tube of cream as well as bangles and other knick-knacks.

All these are placed at a small shrine set up in a bedroom by the family of the young woman who died after a brutal gang rape last year. Every morning, her parents and youngest brother offer prayers there, keeping her memory alive.

"I sometimes think she is going to walk through the front door one of these days," her father, 54, told The Sunday Times.

The story of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student whose attackers brutalised her aboard a bus in New Delhi on Dec 16 last year - and the outrage the incident sparked - dominated headlines for weeks. The Indian government flew her to Singapore for treatment but she died of severe internal injuries on Dec 29.

"We count the days and realise it has been nearly a year since her death. But for us, it seems like it all happened yesterday," said her 46-year-old mother. Looking gaunt and tired, she burst into tears occasionally as she talked about her daughter.

The past 12 months have been nothing short of traumatic for them. The father had struggled for years to raise his oldest daughter and two younger sons on his small income working at Delhi airport.

She had hoped to become a physiotherapist and earn enough to lift her parents and brothers out of poverty. But what she could not do in life, she has done in death.

The family has a new three-bedroom apartment given to them as compensation by the government. It is spartan, but a far cry from their old home with its makeshift roof.

The young woman's ordeal had moved people around the world. An award from the US State Department refers to her as Braveheart. Others call her Nirbhaya - "fearless" in Hindi.

Her mother remembers her as "happy-hearted", saying: "Whatever trouble there was, she never let it get her down."

For the family, however, remembering her in death means also having to remember the pain she had suffered.

"We can't forget the pain... it doesn't leave us," said the mother.

On the evening of Dec 16 last year, the young woman and her boyfriend were lured into boarding a bus with several men, whom they thought were passengers but were actually out on a drunken joyride.

One man drove the bus, while the rest beat up her boyfriend and then took turns raping and brutalising her. Doctors said afterwards they had never seen injuries so severe.

Six suspects, one of them a teenager, were arrested in the next few weeks. Three months later, one of them, Ram Singh, 34, hanged himself in his prison cell.

In September this year, a Delhi court sentenced four of them - Mukesh Singh, 26, Pawan Gupta, 19, Vinay Sharma, 20 and Akshay Thakur, 28 - to death for subjecting the victim to "inhuman acts of torture".

The prosecution had submitted a statement from the victim in which she gave details of the rape and said her attackers "should be hanged" and "set on fire". The men's appeals are being heard in the Delhi High Court.

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