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Rape victim becomes martyr in India

Thousands of people hold candle light vigil as people across India to seek justice for Delhi rape victim, who died in Singapore hospital.

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INDIA'S capital was awash with protesters after a 23-year-old student, brutally gang-raped on a bus a fortnight ago, died in a Singapore hospital.

On Saturday, thousands of police were stationed across central Delhi, blocking off streets leading to Rajpath and Raisina Hill, the epicentre of protests during the week as police charged six men with murder.

Ten Metro stations were closed and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for calm ahead of expected demonstrations being planned via social media and text messages.

An Indian policeman stands guard at a barricade to stop protesters on Saturday after a woman gang raped died in a Singapore hospital.

An Indian policeman stands guard at a barricade to stop protesters on Saturday after a woman gang raped died in a Singapore hospital. Photo: Reuters

Television channels showed crowds chanting and shouting slogans and heckling Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit near parliament in the Indian capital.

The protest, in an area set aside by police, remained peaceful. Demonstrators are preparing to congregate in Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata, the Times Now television channel reported.

President Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement: ''I request everyone to maintain peace and calm and call upon the authorities to take all necessary steps to bring the perpetrators of this ghastly crime to justice.

''At the same time, let us resolve that this death will not be in vain. We will do everything possible to ensure that such an incident never happens again.''

The woman, a physiotherapy student from Uttar Pradesh whose name has not been released, succumbed to massive internal injuries and infection to her lungs and abdomen in hospital early on Saturday.

Her intestines were removed because of severe injuries caused by an iron rod used during the rape. She underwent three abdominal surgeries, but also suffered brain injuries and cardiac arrest.

The chief executive of Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Kelvin Loh, said the woman ''died peacefully'' just before 5am local time (8am AEDT).

The woman's condition had improved in a Delhi hospital during the week. She was conscious and well enough to give a statement to a magistrate. But her condition deteriorated as infection took hold.

Across India, there is a widespread belief that the woman was moved to Singapore not for its superior medical facilities, but so that she would not die in Delhi, sparking more protests. Doctors at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences said the woman was transferred at government direction, not out of medical necessity.

''The question we were asked was whether it would be safe to move her,'' one consulting physician told The Hindu newspaper.

''The question was not whether there were any deficiencies in treatment that would be met by moving her. She was being given the best possible care.''

Tens of thousands gathered for a peaceful protest against the attack at Jantar Mantar, near the centre of town but outside the police barricades. And students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, in the city''s south, led a silent march through Delhi's streets.

Indian media have given the woman several pseudonyms, including ''Amanat'', which means keepsake in Hindi, and ''Damini'', a Bollywood movie character who fought for justice for a rape victim.

After her death, there were calls for a statue to be erected in central Delhi and for the country's flags to fly at half-mast.

Beyond the sadness there is an underlying rage in Delhi and across India, not only at this attack, but at the treatment of women in the world's largest democracy. Sexual violence is common, particularly in Delhi, which carries the unhappy epithet of the ''rape capital'' of India.

But this particular attack has exercised the nation like none before it, not just because of its special brutality, or the fact it took place in the country's capital. The story of ''Damini'' has been seen as archetypal of modern India - its potential and its problems. Hers was a classic tale of aspirational India.

The rape victim's father, a poor farmer from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, had sold all of his land, not to raise a dowry so his daughter could be married, but so that she could have an education - the first woman in her family to be given that opportunity.

He told the speaker of India's Parliament that he and his wife would often go without food, or eat only roti bread flavoured with salt, so that they could pay for their daughter's studies and give her a better life.

In the wake of the attack, much of the country's fury has been directed towards a police force seen as apathetic, corrupt and misogynist, and a political class that often seems uncaring. Senior police are regularly quoted in the Indian press as saying women who are raped are to blame for their attacks - for being out at night, for talking to men, or for wearing jeans.

The woman's body is expected to be returned to India overnight, accompanied by her parents and brothers.

Singh has appointed a retired Delhi High Court judge to investigate the crime and fix lapses in policing. He also pledged to consider tougher penalties for sex crimes after the assault prompted street demonstrations organised through social- media postings. The protesters, who fought water cannons and tear gas on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, demanded more be done to protect women in the capital and across India.

''The need of the hour is a dispassionate debate and inquiry into the critical changes that are required in societal attitudes,'' Singh said today in his statement.

The increased public role of women ''is accompanied by growing threats to their safety and security,'' the prime minister said on Dec. 27. ''We must reflect on this problem, which occurs in all states and regions of our country.''

■The Guardian reports the Indian government is to publish the names, photographs and addresses of thousands of convicted sex offenders in a bid to tackle a wave of sexual violence against women, and head off growing anger at what has been seen as an inadequate and tardy response by older political leaders out of touch with a rapidly changing society.

The controversial measure, announced by the minister of state for home affairs, RPN Singh, is to start in Delhi.

With AGENCIES