Tragedy of Delhi rape victim seeking better life

  • 21 January 2013
  • From the section India
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The narrow wet and muddy lane where the victims' family live in Delhi
Image caption The victim's neighbourhood is one that Delhi's elite would never visit

Neat stacks of medical text books, a sharply-designed carrier bag from a clothes store, an English novel and pairs of smart shoes in the draughty bedroom of the 23-year-old Delhi gang rape victim, tell the story of a woman determined to make the leap to a middle class lifestyle for her and her family.

After visiting the spartan house in a rundown Delhi neighbourhood where she lived with her parents and brothers, you could see how much they had put into helping her realise the dream, shared by so many hundreds of millions of Indians.

Many of the young and middle class Indians - men as well as women - who've joined protests in recent weeks said it was that sense of shared identity, as well as the shocking nature of the attack, that had propelled them onto the streets.

Yet the victim - who legally still can't be named in India - seems to have been much closer to the accused, in her background and means, than to the many wealthier Indians who've been confronting police lines for the first time.

That was the impression I took away after her family invited us in - having also seen the homes of most of the six arrested for this gruesome crime.

The woman's home in a narrow alley doesn't have a proper roof, so the place was damp and water-logged after recent rain storms.

Next-door neighbours were looking down at us through the gap from their tiny dwellings just feet away, as we climbed the stairs to her bedroom - a curtain serving as a door because the lower half was missing.

The walk there took us along muddy streets strewn with rubbish, in a far western suburb of Delhi its rich elite would never visit. Until last year, the area was still classified by city authorities as an illegal slum.

The lanes of Delhi's Ravi Das colony, the slum district where four of the accused had their homes, were if anything in better shape.

Like the student's family, at least two of the accused are from impoverished villages in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, and source for many of the thousands of migrants who come to Delhi every year hoping for a better life - the same journey her father made nearly 30 years ago.

Image caption The homes of most of the accused are perhaps in better shape than the victim's

And the other men are from similar migrant backgrounds. Where they differ, though, was in what they did about it.

"We gave our all to our daughter," her mother told us, still devastated with grief.

She says she can barely leave her bed, complaining of frequent headaches and chest pains.

And their support was working: her daughter was studying at a college in Dehradun in northern India and was on course to qualify as a physiotherapist, while working overtime in a call centre.

"We never gave our sons better treatment," said the mother. In that respect they were also different from many among India's middle class.

Figures show they are just as likely as poorer groups to favour male children, even before they are born - and afterwards in care and medical treatment.

It means India is in a rare category - along with only China - of having higher rates of infant mortality among girls than boys.

The student's mother also lashed out at India's sexist attitudes, attacking the many politicians and other public figures who've suggested she brought the rape on herself.

One well-known spiritual guru even said she should have embraced her attackers as "brothers" to stop them assaulting her.

"Either they don't have daughters," her mother said, "or they are clearly backing these crimes."

Her stance is also a sign of how it's simplistic to see the outcry over this brutal crime as being a kind of "Arab spring" by the more educated middle class.

Her father, sitting on the bed where they laid her body after she was brought back from Singapore, is now left with the memories of his determined daughter.

Echoing his wife's criticisms, he said India had to change to make sure such crimes never happened again. "The character of our society is very poor," he said.

But his daughter's example, he said, was that "you should stand up for yourself. Don't lose, only win."

What makes this story even more tragic is that the young student was clearly so close to doing that.

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