Law and Order

03.12.13

Cheated by Death: No Euphoria in Ram Singh’s Hanging

If a sometime bus driver turned rapist from the slums of Delhi dies in jail, does India rejoice? Dilip D’Souza on the nation’s lack of euphoria around the mysterious suicide.

Leave aside the death-penalty critics, possibly his family too. Is there anyone in India who is both aware of the ghastly gang rape in Delhi in December, and who didn’t want its main accused (yes, and each of his partners in rape) to pay with his life?

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Delhi police personnel assemble in the neighborhood of the home of Ram Singh, who was found hanged in his cell in high-security Tihar prison in New Delhi, March 11, 2013. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty)

I’d say, no. “Try the guy, sure, but make sure he gets the death penalty; then hang him, preferably in public”: arguably, that was the sum total of the sentiment about Ram Singh since he was first arrested for that crime.

And now the man is indeed dead. He was found hanging in his jail cell early on Monday morning, apparently a suicide. Now this death is, after all, what plenty of us Indians wanted. So is there an outpouring of euphoria about his passing?

Not surprisingly, no.

But the questions, first. Because there are far too many to wish away.

This was a suicide? Well, how did he get the rope to hang himself? One report says he made it from his own clothes; another in the same publication says he made it from his bed sheet; a third says he “fashioned a noose from threads torn from the mat he slept on.”

In any case, once he made his rope, how did he fasten it to a metal grill eight feet above the ground? After all, Singh himself was just 5 feet 8 inches tall and had a "slight deformity in his right hand." How did he reach so high? Not forgetting: this was one of the country’s most hated criminals. Being so, a suicide attempt should have been anticipated. Why was this one not? Why was he not on a suicide watch, his movements monitored on CCTV?

There’s a feeling that by dying like this, Ram Singh has cheated the wheels of justice, slow as we all know they are.

Naturally, therefore, there are suggestions that he was murdered. By all accounts, rapists are the bottom rung in the rogues’ gallery our jails are to begin with. Given the horrific character of this particular rape, these accused men were despised even more in jail. There have already been suggestions that they had been attacked by other prisoners. Could Ram Singh have been murdered by his cellmates who then rigged things up so it looked like a suicide? Or are there wheels within wheels here we cannot even imagine?

Who will now answer all those questions? Who really cares to find out? The truth is, Ram Singh was too loathed a man for answers to be diligently sought. I don’t expect this murky episode to find clarity any time soon, and I doubt too many of my fellow-Indians do either.

Yet there remains that lack of euphoria. Among a lot of people, there’s a feeling that, by dying like this, Ram Singh has cheated the wheels of justice, slow as we all know they are. He has cheated the hangman, because that’s where so many of us wanted and anticipated those wheels would deliver him. He has cheated our very outrage, our yearning for revenge, our sense that revenge equals justice. He has cheated us, period.

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Indian attorney V.K. Anand, representing Ram Singh, the main accused of a fatal gang-rape case and who was found dead in his prison cell Monday, talks to the media outside the Deen Diyal Upadhyay hospital mortuary in New Delhi, March 11, 2013. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty)

Let me admit: I feel cheated too (though for the record—being one of those death penalty critics, I didn’t want him executed). Let me admit too: this is hardly a new feeling. I felt exactly the same when H.K.L. Bhagat and Madhukar Sarpotdar died. These were powerful politicians accused of crimes during the massacres in Delhi in 1984 and Mumbai in 1992–93. With political backing—Sarpotdar even won election and was, to my disgust, my M.P. in Parliament—and legal maneuvering, they evaded every attempt to bring them to justice.

Let’s never forget that these men cheated us too. So if a sometime bus driver turned rapist from the slums of Delhi dies in jail and thus seems to elude the clutches of our law-and-order system, well, who is really surprised?

In a real sense, Ram Singh’s death is a commentary on our law-and-order system. On how it, and not Ram Singh, cheats us all.