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Indian girl commits suicide over alleged gang rape

By Harmeet Shah Singh and Hilary Whiteman, CNN
January 4, 2013 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
  • 17-year-old girl commits suicide after alleging she was gang raped
  • In her suicide note, she named her alleged attackers who have since been arrested
  • Her death follows furious protests over another gang-rape on a bus in New Delhi
  • Protesters are demanding more government action after a sharp rise in cases

New Delhi (CNN) -- Indian police have arrested three suspects named in a suicide note left by a teenager who claimed she had been gang raped, as anger in the country grows over the rising number of violent crimes committed against women.

The 17-year-old girl died Wednesday after ingesting poison, according to Paramjit Singh Gill, the inspector-general of police in the Patiala district of Punjab in the country's north.

In her suicide note, the girl blamed her alleged rapists for causing her death. Three of the suspects, including a female accomplice, have since been arrested, Gill said.

The unnamed girl claimed she was gang-raped during the Hindu festival of Diwali on November 13. However, a formal case wasn't registered by police until 14 days later.

Two police officers involved in the case have been fired and another has been suspended for their handling of the rape complaint. Gill said an investigation was underway into allegations made by the girl's family that the officers pressured her to withdraw her complaint.

The teenager's death comes after days of mass protests over the gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16. The victim in that case died early Saturday.

Read more: India gang-rape victim in Singapore for treatment

An Indian activist gets his head shaven in protest against the Dehli gang-rape in New Delhi on Friday, January 4. A gang of men is accused of repeatedly raping a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi. Police formally charged the five suspects with rape, kidnapping and murder after the woman died. An Indian activist gets his head shaven in protest against the Dehli gang-rape in New Delhi on Friday, January 4. A gang of men is accused of repeatedly raping a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi. Police formally charged the five suspects with rape, kidnapping and murder after the woman died.
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Her attackers were alleged to have assaulted the woman and her male companion, robbing them of their belongings before dumping them at the side of a road, according to a police statement. Six suspects are now under arrest, including the bus driver and a minor.

The woman's male companion has since been discharged from hospital, but the violent sexual assault left the woman near death and in need of intensive care.

She was flown to Singapore for treatment on Thursday where doctors described her condition as "extremely critical." She "passed away peacefully" at 4:45 a.m. Saturday (3:45 p.m. ET Friday), with her family and Indian officials at her side, Dr. Kelvin Loh, chief executive officer at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, in Singapore, said in a statement.

"Our medical team's investigations upon her arrival at the hospital ... showed that in addition to her prior cardiac arrest, she also had infection of her lungs and abdomen, as well as significant brain injury," Loh said after the woman had been brought to his hospital.

Authorities haven't released the name of the rape victim, but protesters are calling her "Damini," which means "lightning" in Hindi. "Damini" is also a 1993 Bollywood film whose lead female character fights for a housemaid, a victim of a sexual assault.

The brutal attack triggered a wave of protests that started in the Raisina Hills area of New Delhi on Saturday, and spread to other areas of the city. Demonstrators marched through the streets waving signs that read, "Hang them till death," and "Stop this shame."

Police aimed water cannon at the crowd, after some demonstrators tried to break through the security barriers erected around the government district, parliament building and presidential palace. Protesters claimed they were injured in clashes, and returned to the streets on Sunday shouting anti-government slogans.

More demonstrations were held on Thursday, when elderly and middle-aged women joined younger students to demand greater action and protection. They say the government is not doing enough to address the alarming incidence of rape in India.

Reported rape cases have surged more than tenfold over the past 40 years -- from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011, according to official figures. New Delhi alone reported 572 rapes last year and more than 600 in 2012.

The government announced plans Thursday to "name and shame" convicted rapists by posting their names, images and addresses on official websites, according to the Times of India.

Read more: Opinion: India's rape problem needs a rewiring of society's attitude

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the safety of women as his government's "highest concern" in a meeting with senior government officials.

"Women and girls represent half the population and our society has not been fair to this half. Their socio-economic status is improving, but gaps persist," he said in a speech Thursday.

"The emergence of women in public spaces, which is an absolutely essential part of social emancipation, is accompanied by growing threats to their safety and security," Singh said.

He reiterated that the December 16 bus rape case would be dealt with in a speedy manner.

"There can be no meaningful development without the active participation of half the population and this participation simply cannot take place if their security and safety are not assured," Singh said.

Seema Sirohi, from the Indian Council on Global Relations, told CNN that most women in India had their own stories of sexual harassment and abuse.

"To be a woman in India is not an easy proposition. Every woman has experienced some kind of abuse on public transportation, lewd remarks on the street. No matter how conservatively you are dressed, you are still open season for the men," she said.

"There are a lot of reasons why this happens, but the patriarchal system is one, a lack of policing is another, and general treatment of women which is not equal to men, even though it may be so under the law," Sirohi added.

The Indian Cabinet plans to set up a commission to look into the rape and suggest measures to improve women's safety. The commission has three months to submit its report to the government.

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