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Drinking fuelled a night of terror

Date: January 02 2013


Jason Burke, Delhi

WINTER in Delhi is short, but in the slum colony of Ravi Das in the south of the city the cold bites hard. Most of the men work on the booming city's construction sites; the women sell vegetables or sew.

About 11pm on Sunday just over two weeks ago, Ram Singh, a 33-year-old school bus driver known as a troublesome drunkard, and his younger brother Mukesh headed back to their one-bedroom brick home, where they had spent the afternoon drinking. They cooked dinner and argued briefly, according to neighbours who heard them, then all went quiet.

The people of Ravi Das had little warning they were about to be at the centre of a global news story. That night, a 23-year-old student had been gang-raped on a bus. Nearly two weeks later, she died of her injuries in the Singapore hospital where she had been sent for treatment.

The police came for the Singh brothers 36 hours after the attack. They also wanted Pawan Gupta, a 19-year-old student who helped his parents on their fruit stand, and Vinay Sharma, a cleaner in a local gym. The men reportedly confessed quickly. They had, it is alleged, gone out with two others in Ram Singh's bus on a ''joyride''. Cruising Delhi's streets they had picked up a woman and her male friend.

They battered the man unconscious and repeatedly raped the woman before dumping them near the city's airport. The suspects are due in court on Thursday.

Ram and Mukesh Singh grew up in the colony, neighbours say. Their parents were from Karauli, a remote and lawless part of Rajasthan. In the early 1990s, the parents had come to Delhi to find work and squatted on what was then derelict land. Like so many poor Indians, the family shuttled between their ancestral village and the city, where work and better education were to be found. Ram and Mukesh, unlike their parents, were literate.

Mukesh, about 30, was quiet, nondescript, a follower. Ram was a drinker and a brawler.

But Ram Singh did not harass local girls. ''He knew what trouble he'd get if he tried it on with them,'' a neighbour said. But in the anonymity of a seething city, things were different.

Gupta, a relative said, had grown up in north-eastern Uttar Pradesh, also one of the poorest parts of India. He had given up further education to come to Delhi to help his parents but, still young, was hoping to go to college. Sharma, the son of an airport cleaner, was doing a distance college course in communications.

The final pair accused are an as yet unidentified 17-year-old and Aksay Kumar Thakur, a 26-year-old from a village in the deep south of Bihar. Both were recent arrivals in the city and worked as helpers on Ram Singh's bus.

Ravi Das colony is far from the pit of inequity and squalor portrayed by some local media. The narrow lanes are swept clean, the walls of the houses painted bright colours. There is, said one young woman proudly, drinking water twice a day, for an hour at a time. Halfway between the seething city and the villages where almost all its inhabitants grew up, life may be tough and unpredictable, but there is a chance of something better.

■Indian police have arrested a man who was allegedly trying to plant a crude bomb near the home of one of the accused in the gang-rape and murder case. The 37-year-old man was arrested on Tuesday in the narrow bylanes of Ravi Das.

GUARDIAN NEWS & MEDIA

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