Rape case 'an awakening' for India, victim's father says

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Story highlights

  • The victim of the December New Delhi gang rape and fatal beating was an aspiring doctor
  • Her killing has provoked protests in Indian cities and calls for tougher laws
  • "Society can no longer turn a blind eye to these sorts of incidents," her father tells ITV

The father of the woman whose rape and fatal beating provoked outrage across India and worldwide says his daughter's death "brought an awakening to society."

The 23-year-old student, whose name has not been released, died in a Singapore hospital in late December after being assaulted on a New Delhi bus on December 16. The case sparked protests in several Indian cities and led to promises to strengthen laws against sexual assault.

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"Society can no longer turn a blind eye to these sorts of incidents, which are happening every day," the woman's father told the British television network ITV. "We have to change ourselves. If there are no changes, then these horrible things won't stop. The public has to wake up now."

The victim was a physiotherapy student who was expecting to start a hospital internship this month. Her father said she wanted to be a doctor "right from the start," largely to help her family escape poverty.

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"Her main aim was that our family would not have to suffer anymore," he said. "She wanted to put the difficult life behind us. Why bow to our poverty? She also wanted to make sure that I didn't have to keep working hard late in life."

Five men were charged with murder, rape and kidnapping, and could be sentenced to death if convicted. A juvenile court will take up the matter of determining the age of a sixth suspect, who claims to be 17 and therefore not old enough to be tried as an adult.

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The five adults appeared in court Monday, when a New Delhi judge ordered proceedings closed after tempers flared among lawyers inside the packed courtroom. The local bar association last week vowed not to represent any of the suspects because of the nature of the crime they are accused of committing.

A male companion who had gone to the movies with the woman survived the attack with a broken leg. He later recounted that the bus driver made lewd remarks about the woman when they boarded, and five other men taunted the couple and locked the doors.

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Then the attack began, with the driver, wielding an iron bar, taking part, the man told the news agency Agence France-Presse.

The badly beaten woman was flown to Singapore for treatment after the attack. Her father told ITV he was "like a bird without wings" as he accompanied his unconscious daughter, but "I used to get filled with some hope."

"When I was told that she might not get well and might have to get an operation, I felt uncomfortable. It was difficult for me," he said. "But when she was put on a ventilator, it gave me some hope that she would get better. I thought she might get better and she would live."

Read more: New Delhi rape exposes the perils of being a woman in India

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In some ways, Indian women have made great strides in the past few decades. Literacy rates have gone up and maternal mortality rates have gone down. Millions of women have joined the workforce, and political leaders like Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi are role models.

But the number of reported rapes -- in a country where a cultural stigma keeps many victims from reporting the crime -- has increased drastically, from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011, according to official figures. New Delhi alone had 572 rapes reported in 2011 and more than 600 in 2012.

Most women in India have stories of sexual harassment and abuse on public transportation or on the streets, said Seema Sirohi, of the Indian Council on Global Relations.

The slain student's father said he hoped any new law inspired by the attack -- or perhaps a hospital -- would bear his daughter's name.

"She has brought an awakening to society," he said.