By Adam Plowright
New Delhi (AFP) – Claims of police incompetence and public apathy stirred fresh outrage on Saturday in the case of a New Delhi gang-rape victim after her boyfriend recounted witnessing the horrific crime for the first time.
The man was also badly injured as he tried to prevent the assault on a moving bus on December 16 which has stirred violent protests and a bout of soul-searching about the treatment of women and rising sex crime in India.
Speaking to AFP and an Indian news channel, the boyfriend said passers-by ignored the naked and bloodied couple for 30 minutes after they were thrown out of the bus and police then wasted more time arguing over who had jurisdiction.
“A passer-by found us (after the attack), but he did not even give my friend his jacket,” he told AFP in the interview which also raised questions about the medical treatment given to the woman at a government hospital.
The claims came as a trial of five suspects started in a district court in south Delhi where the accused have been ordered to appear together for the first time on Monday.
In addition to rape, kidnap and robbery, they face a murder charge and possibly the death penalty after the 23-year-old victim died last weekend from her horrific injuries, including internal wounds caused by an iron bar.
“The cruelty I saw should not be seen ever,” the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told AFP of the savagery of the assault which started after the couple were lured onto the bus after watching a film together.
Speaking to the Hindi-language Zee News channel, he said it took 90 minutes for the injured pair to reach hospital because passers-by ignored their pleas for help, and police were late to arrive and then needlessly delayed.
“They could have taken us to hospital, given us clothes in that crucial one-and-a-half hours. For a dying person every minute is important,” he told the channel.
Facing angry criticism on the streets, where protests have raged over the last three weeks against the lack of safety in the Indian capital, the police issued a hasty rebuttal.
A senior officer from the area where they were found, Vivek Gogia, told a press conference computer logs showed the police were on the scene six minutes after receiving a distress call and the couple were in hospital 28 minutes later.
“This is not the time to engage in arguments,” he added.
Separately, the police filed a case against Zee News because the interview – which showed the boyfriend’s face unobscured – had illegally disclosed the identity of a rape victim.
The Committee to Protect Journalists criticised the move in a statement.
While faith in the police force is already low – they are widely pilloried as corrupt, insensitive to complaints from women and understaffed – the revelation that bystanders failed to help the injured couple angered some Delhi residents.
“As people we should try and improve ourselves because the boy talked about how the people who were passing by did not try to help them,” said Abhinav Agarwal, a 31-year-old manager at a private company.
“More than the police, it is the public who should try to reflect and bring a change in their attitude,” he told AFP.
Others pointed out that witnesses to crimes were generally reluctant to help or come forward in India out of fear of being implicated by police or being consumed in a lengthy trial.
At the district court hearing the case of the suspects in south New Delhi, magistrate Namrita Aggarwal told AFP that she had “taken cognisance of the case” during a hearing, meaning that the trial was now formally under way.
The suspects have been called to appear before her on Monday, she said.
Aggarwal had been expected to transfer the case to a separate fast-track court set up to try the case.
The raped woman was an ambitious physiotherapy student interning in New Delhi who had been to see the “Life of Pi” film at an upmarket shopping mall with her boyfriend.
“I was not very confident about getting into the bus but my friend was running late, so we got into it. This was the biggest mistake I made,” he said.
He told how the driver of the bus and his accomplices allegedly made lewd remarks before stopping the vehicle, which had tinted windows, and locking the doors.
“They hit me with a small stick and dragged my friend to a seat near the driver’s cabin,” he told AFP.
After that the “driver and the other men raped my friend and hit her in the worst possible ways in the most private parts of her body.”
“I cannot tell you what I feel when I think of it. I shiver in pain,” he said.
In his interview with AFP, he said he was “in love” with the victim but declined to comment on statements from friends that they were to marry.
The man’s father also spoke to AFP by telephone, saying his son was still in a state of shock but that he was proud he had done his best to defend the woman.
“It will take some time for him to heal mentally,” he said.
“He has started eating home food and is feeling much better after leaving Delhi. My son fought bravely. He tried until the very end to save the girl and I am proud of him.”