NEW DELHI — The family of a suspect in a fatal gang rape here last December who was found dead Monday morning in his jail cell said they believed he was killed. The case had set off an uproar across India.
The man, Ram Singh, was accused of being the driver of a bus in which a 23-year-old woman was beaten and raped. The woman suffered severe internal injuries from being sexually assaulted with an iron rod. Singh was found at 5:45 a.m. hanging from a bedsheet rope suspended from a ceiling grill, jail officials said.
An investigation was under way, the officials said.
“It is a major lapse in security — certainly it is not a small incident,” India’s home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, said at a news conference in New Delhi.
But Singh’s family members and his lawyer said that he would not have been able to tie a noose, because his right arm had been seriously damaged in a bus accident. In addition, they said, he shared his cell in the Tihar prison complex with several inmates, making it difficult to believe he could have hanged himself without being noticed.
“I suspect there is foul play,” the lawyer, V.K. Anand, said. “There were no circumstances for committing suicide. His mental state was stable, the trial was going well, he was meeting with his family. I can’t understand why he would commit suicide.”
Some family members said Singh had been abused in jail.
“It is not suicide, he has been hanged by the police,” Singh’s father, Mangilal, said in an interview. He said that his son had told him on Friday that the police were beating him in jail and that he was being pressured to change his lawyer.
Earlier Monday, the father told the television channel NewsX that Ram Singh had said that other inmates had raped him.
Singh’s brother, Mukesh, is one of the other four men accused in the case, which is being tried in a special “fast track” court in South Delhi set up for sexual assault cases. The creation of such courts was a direct result of the uproar over the fatal rape in December, as thousands of people across India, long angered by selective law enforcement and endemic corruption, vented their outrage over failures in preventing and prosecuting crimes against women.
A sixth defendant, a teenager, is being tried as a juvenile. The four men face 13 charges, including murder — which could carry the death penalty — rape, and robbery.
Singh, whose job was to transport schoolchildren in the bus, which later became the site of the attack, was the first suspect the police apprehended after the attack was reported.
His confession to the police led them to the others, who were accused and helped officers piece together what had happened that night.
According to the police charge sheet, a group of drunken men, looking for victims to harass, tricked the young woman and a male friend into getting on the bus, attacked them, and then stripped off their clothes and left them on a highway.