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Early Warnings About Ram Singh’s Safety; Suicide ‘Not Possible,’ Family Says

Published: March 11, 2013 | 10:23 am
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NEW DELHI — The family of Ram Singh, one of the accused in the Delhi gang rape case who was found hanged in his jail cell on Monday morning, was warned on Friday that his life might be in danger, one of his brothers said on Monday.

He could not have killed himself, family and legal advisers insisted on Monday. “It’s simply not possible,” one of Mr. Singh’s two brothers, who asked that his name not be used, said in an interview on Monday.

Ram Singh and his other brother, Mukesh, are two of the six accused in the Dec. 16 rape of a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus, which ultimately resulted in her death. Ram and Mukesh Singh were feared by their relatives and neighbors in Ravidas Camp, their home in Delhi, even before they were connected with the attack, because they had a reputation for heavy drinking and bad language.

But after Mr. Singh was found dead in his Tihar Jail cell Monday morning, hanging from a rope made of his own clothes, family members vehemently rejected the notion that he might have committed suicide.

After the court hearing last Friday, a policeman who travels in the vehicle that brings accused people from jail to the courthouse, advised Mr. Singh’s parents to have his cell changed, his brother said. His parents had communicated this to the brother’s lawyer, V.K. Anand. “It’s been four days since we told him,” Mr. Singh’s brother said. “Why wasn’t this done?”

Mr. Anand was not immediately available to comment on whether he had received such a message. A Tihar Jail spokesman said that Mr. Singh’s death was being investigated, but did not provide any more information.

Last Friday, Mr. Singh’s parents visited him in jail, his brother said, and he appeared calm then. His adopted son visited him last Wednesday, the brother added. “He seemed happy and even made the little boy sit on his lap and talk to him,” he said. “He has never said or done anything that indicated that he was contemplating suicide.”

Several family members said in interviews that they suspected foul play, as did Mr. Singh’s former and current lawyers.

“We can’t believe it,” his sister-in-law, who requested that her name not be used to avoid additional media attention, said in a telephone interview. She is the wife of the brother who is not connected with the gang rape case.

“His parents were beating their heads and crying when they heard the news in the morning,” she said.

A cousin of the brothers, who also requested his name not be disclosed in order to avoid further media attention, said he suspected foul play in the death.

“It is terrible and also very suspicious,” said the cousin, who lived next door to the brothers in Ravidas Camp. “If he wanted to commit suicide, then why now when the trial is going on, why not before? It doesn’t make sense.”

He blasted the police for allowing such a lapse in security. “If they can’t protect people inside a jail, how can they protect people outside it?” he asked.

Although no evidence has been offered yet to support Mr. Singh’s relatives’ suspicions, India has a high rate of suspicious deaths during incarceration, human rights advocates said.

“The number of custodial deaths in India is disproportionately high, and it raises questions about the kind of security the jail authorities are providing,’’ Suhas Chakma, director at Asian Centre for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization that promotes human rights, said.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 1,332 prisoners died in jails due to natural and unnatural causes in 2011. Of these deaths, 88, or 6.6. percent, were listed as “unnatural,’’ including suicides, murders by inmates, deaths due to fire and deaths due to negligence or excesses by jail personnel.

Suicides accounted for 5 percent of total deaths. Delhi jails witnessed two suicides in 2011.

In an earlier interview, Mr. Singh’s cousin suggested he should be hanged if he was found guilty. Speaking after the news of the suicide, he said, “Look, there is a difference between hanging after a trial and someone committing suicide. Like this, justice does not run its course.”

Mr. Singh’s current lawyer, Mr. Anand, also said earlier Monday that he thought the death was suspicious.

Despite his own previous misgivings about the brothers, Mr. Singh’s cousin said on Monday that he grieved for Mr. Singh’s parents. “They are old and all this is too much to deal with at their age,” he said. “I have met them a few times and they just kept crying.”

The news of Ram Singh’s death has also raised concerns among the relatives of the other men accused in the Delhi gang rape case. Champa Devi, the mother of one of the men, Vinay Sharma, said earlier that she believed her son had been led astray by the Singh brothers.

On Monday, Ms. Champa said that she wanted the jail authorities to ensure that her son was safe. “But I don’t know how I will ask the police,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m usually very frightened when I go visit him in jail,” she said.

Ms. Champa visited her son last week. “He is very depressed and cries a lot,” she said. Still, she added, “I cannot read his mind, but I don’t think he is having any suicidal thoughts.”

Niharika Mandhana contributed reporting from Delhi.


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