By Ashok Sharma
The companion of a woman who was gang-raped aboard a bus in New Delhi recounted in a television interview for the first time Friday how the pair was attacked for 2 1/2 hours before being thrown on the side of the road, where passersby ignored them and police debated jurisdiction issues before helping them.
The Dec. 16 attack has outraged Indians and led to calls for tougher rape laws and reforms of a police culture that often blames rape victims and refuses to file charges against accused attackers. The nation's top law enforcement official said the country needs to crack down on crimes against women with "an iron hand."
The 23-year-old woman died over the weekend from massive internal injuries suffered during the attack. Authorities charged five men with her murder and rape and were holding a sixth suspect believed to be a juvenile. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Saturday.
The woman and her male friend had just finished watching the movie Life of Pi at an upscale mall and were looking for a ride home. An autorickshaw driver declined to take them so they boarded the private bus with the six assailants inside, the companion told the Indian TV network Zee TV.
Authorities have not named the man because of the sensitivity of the case. The TV station also declined to give his name, although it did show his face during the interview. The man has a broken leg and was sitting in a wheelchair during the interview.
After a while, the men on the bus starting harassing and attacking the pair, he said.
`'I gave a tough fight to three of them. I punched them hard. But then two others hit me with an iron rod," he said. The woman tried to call the police using her mobile phone, but the men took it away from her, he said. They then took her to the rear seats of the bus and raped her.
`'The attack was so brutal I can't even tell you ... even animals don't behave like that," he said.
Afterward, he overheard some of the attackers saying she was dead, he said.
The men then dumped their bleeding and naked bodies under an overpass. He waved to passers-by on bikes, in autorickshaws and in cars for help.
"They slowed down, looked at our naked bodies and left," he said. After about 20 minutes, three police vans arrived and the officers began arguing over who had jurisdiction over the crime as the man pleaded for clothes and an ambulance, he said.
The man said he was given no medical care. Instead, he spent four days at the police station helping them investigate the crime. He said he visited his friend in the hospital, told her the attackers were arrested and promised to fight for her.
`'She has awakened us all by her courage," he said. `'People should move ahead in the struggle to prevent a similar crime happening again as a tribute to her."
On Friday, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said crimes against women and marginalised sections of society are increasing, and it is the government's responsibility to stop them.
"This needs to be curbed by an iron hand," he told a conference of state officials from across India that was called to discuss how to protect women.
He called for changes in the law and the way police investigate cases so justice can be swiftly delivered. Many rape cases are bogged down in India's overburdened and sluggish court system for years.
"We need a reappraisal of the entire system," he said.
In the wake of the rape, several petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court to take an active role in the issue of women's safety.
On Friday, the court dismissed a petition asking it to suspend Indian lawmakers accused of crimes against women, saying it doesn't have jurisdiction, according to the Press Trust of India. The Association for Democratic Reforms, an organisation that tracks officials' criminal records, said six state lawmakers are facing rape prosecutions and two national parliamentarians are facing charges of crimes against women that fall short of rape.
However, the court did agree to look into the widespread creation of more fast-track courts for accused rapists across the country.