Delhi Gang Rape Suspect 'Commits Suicide' in Prison

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Since it happened in December, we've been actively following developments on the show in India surrounding the gang rape and murder of a young woman on a New Delhi bus. Well, today a new and disturbing twist in the ongoing trial of the defendants in that case. The alleged ringleader of the men on that bus was found dead in his prison cell. The authorities say 33-year-old Ram Singh committed suicide by hanging himself with a handmade rope. Singh was being tried along with four other men on charges of rape, murder, and abduction. A sixth subject was on trial as a juvenile. The BBC's Soutik Biswas is in Delhi. Remind us, please, how this man, Ram Singh, was thought to be involved in the brutal gang rape and murder case.

Soutik Biswas: Well, he was the guy who was driving the bus, though they took turns on that fateful night, two of them took turns driving the bus. So he was the prime suspect.

Werman: So the case, as we know, really struck a chord with Indian citizens and led to widespread protests. How has the public there reacted to this news of the apparent suicide?

Biswas: You know, it's interesting that a lot of people have actually said, whether I'm talking to the social media space and things in the public, that this man would have been executed anyway. So there's very little sympathy for the man. So in terms of the public reaction, it's kind of muted in the sense that there is no outrage about the fact that this man died in the prison. But what people are asking is that, how could this happen to such a high profile prisoner.

Werman: Right, which is one of the questions, presumably, that Singh's lawyer is asking, how could this have happened as a suicide, and so is his family.

Biswas: That true. In fact they are convinced that Ram Singh was murdered inside the prison.

Werman: And why are they convinced that he was murdered?

Biswas: Well, that's not very clear. They say that a lot of prisoners attacked Ram Singh and the other five accused when they were taken to the prison for the first time. This is not uncommon in Indian prisons. I've been to a lot of Indian prisons and jailers have told me that people under trials in rape cases or people who are being convicted in rape cases are the worst off.

Werman: I mean, in the US certain perpetrators and their alleged crimes, when those people get in jail, for example, child sex offenders, they are magnets for other inmates who intend to teach them a lesson. You're saying that rape is that crime in Indian prisons. If you're a rapist or an alleged rapist, you're going to get attacked or worse?

Biswas: Yeah, that's what most of the officials tell me. If you are a rapist, then you get the worst treatment from other inmates in the prison.

Werman: Soutik, based on what you've read and seen and heard, do you think it was a murder or a suicide?

Biswas: Well, you know, it's very, very difficult to say. Suicides do happen, even after they are kept in cells with two or three other inmates. I've heard really bizarre accounts from jail officials about the various ways they try to take their lives, like by tying knots with the iron grills of the gates, the cell gate. So there have been suicides inside cells with co-inmates sleeping through it. It has happened in the past.

Werman: So what happens now? Will the trial just continue as scheduled?

Biswas: Well, the trial, I think, will [xx]. What will be interesting to see is if the court actually passes a directive to the prison authorities to tighten the security, or even, you know, who knows, move them to another prison. But having said that, Tihar remains the best bet. It's one of the prisons which is known to treat prisoners better than many other prisons in India.

Werman: And what about the judicial process? Because now the man who's likely the kingpin of this whole case is removed. We don't know what his testimony is going to be, do we?

Biswas: Of course, the trial is going on. It's in camera, so we don't know the details. But the early confession that he gave to the police, I've read some parts of those testimonies and they're really, really grizzly in detail. But the fact is in India, often during the trial the person will retract and say that his confession was extracted under duress and so on. We don't know what was happening in the trial, but I think that the fast-track court will finish its trial by May.

Werman: The BBC's Delhi correspondent, Soutik Biswas. Thank you.

Biswas: Thank you.