THE young Indian woman whose death after a gang-rape prompted national soul-searching has been cremated.
The funeral pyre was lit after traumatised relatives and friends said their final prayers at a ceremony in south-western Delhi.
Friends revealed that the 23-year-old student was engaged to the man who was attacked alongside her, and that they planned to marry in February. "They had made all the wedding preparations and had planned a wedding party in Delhi," said Meena Rai, who was a close friend and neighbour. "I really loved this girl. She was the brightest of all."
Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, and Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the ruling Congress party, were at Delhi airport to console her parents as they arrived home on a chartered plane with their daughter's body in the early hours.
After treatment in a Delhi hospital following the attack on December 16, the woman was flown to Singapore on Wednesday, but doctors were unable to prevent multiple organ failure. She was pronounced dead in the early hours of Saturday.
Her killing has prompted government promises of better protection for women and profound soul-searching in a nation where horrifying gang-rapes are commonplace and sexual harassment is routinely dismissed as "Eve-teasing".
Several thousand people gathered in the centre of the Indian capital yesterday – some to express sympathy for the victim, others to voice their anger at the government.
Stringent security measures in which government offices and other public areas in New Delhi have been sealed off to prevent protests have been seized on by critics as further evidence of an out-of-touch government bungling its response.
"We cannot understand the high-handedness of the police. This is our city, we should be free to move around and protest peacefully," said Mahima Anand, 21, who works for a multi-national company. She spoke from the Jantar Mantar area of Delhi, where protesters have been allowed to gather. "She was not just one woman, she epitomises every Indian woman who has been wronged in some way or the other," she added.
The victim, whose identity has been withheld to protect her family, was attacked with her fiance after they boarded a bus in South Delhi's upmarket Saket neighbourhood. They were returning from a visit to the cinema.
She was raped repeatedly by six men, who have been charged with her murder, as the bus cruised the capital's streets. Their brutal assaults were hidden from view by the bus's tinted windows and closed curtains.
The 'Hindustan Times' newspaper reported that the woman, a trainee physiotherapist, was the joker of her family who always entertained her two younger brothers and tutored neighbours' children to boost her family's income.
A dedicated student, she was determined to get a well-paid job to help repay her father, who had sold his ancestral home to fund her tuition, reports said.
The tragedy has forced India to confront the reality that sexually assaulted women are often blamed for the crime, discouraging them from going to the authorities for fear of exposing their families to ridicule.
Human Rights Watch said Indian rape survivors "usually find it difficult to register police complaints, and often go from one hospital to another even for a medical examination". (© Daily Telegraph, London)