In a sensational twist in the gruesome Delhi gang rape-cum-murder case, one of the accused Ram Singh allegedly committed suicide in a high-security cell in Tihar Jail early on Monday morning, raising questions over monitoring of undertrials.
Significantly 33-year-old Ram Singh, who has a slight deformity in his right hand after an accident, hanged himself from the grill of his cell in Jail No 3 using his clothes, jail officials said.
The news of his death immediately triggered demands from his lawyers and family for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe. They alleged that he was murdered inside the jail and refused to believe that he could have committed suicide.
Forensic experts have visited the jail premises to collect samples. Singh was under depression for the past couple of days and last evening, he even did not have food, jail sources said, a claim contested by his lawyers.
Since it was a death under suspicious circumstances, Delhi government ordered an inquiry by a metropolitan magistrate.
"Singh was not alone in the cell when he committed suicide. Other inmates were present and a guard was also posted. But nobody came to know about it. Around 5 am, he was found hanging," a senior jail official said.
Prone to violent behaviour and mood swings, he had suicidal tendencies and was under "suicide watch," he said.
Singh, who was to be produced before court for its daily hearing, was rushed to the jail hospital where he was declared brought dead. His body will be taken to DeenDayalUpadhyayHospital for post mortem.
"There is already an inquiry which has been ordered by Tihar Jail on suicide of the main accused. We are enquiring into the matter," R P N Singh, minister of state for home affairs, said.
The girl was raped in the bus by him and his five associates, including a minor, in south Delhi after brutally beating her and also her male friend. The girl died in a Singapore hospital on December 29.
Singh, who was arrested a day after the incident, was the driver of the bus in which the girl was raped. His brother Mukesh was driving the bus when the girl was sexually assaulted allegedly by them.
All the adult accused, charged with murder and gang rape, face punishment up to death. The other four accused came to the Saket court where lawyers are on strike.
M L Sharma, a lawyer claiming to appear for Singh, had moved the Supreme Court seeking transfer of the case out of Delhi on grounds that the trial would be vitiated in the capital. The court rejected it.
Singh's lawyer V K Anand said after the death that again they would move the Supreme Court for shifting the trial from Delhi as they feel that the accused are not safe here.
In a related development, the court hearing the case was informed about Singh's death. Additional Sessions Judge Yogesh Khanna ordered that an inquiry be held into it.
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit met Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde in the wake of the alleged suicide by a December 16 gang rape case accused.
"A magisterial inquiry has already been ordered. Till the report comes, it will be difficult to comment on the issue. Let the autopsy report come, things will be clear," Dikshit said.
Singh's family alleged that he was murdered and demanded a CBI probe into the incident. "He has not committed suicide. He has been murdered and then hanged. I am saying this on the basis of the fact that evidences has been erased. He could not move his hand as it has fractures.
"I am also demanding that the post mortem be held in front me," he said.
Reacting to the incident, the girl's family said they were "surprised but not saddened" by the suicide and are waiting for the four others to be sent to the gallows.
“We are surprised at the suicide but we are not sad. He would have been hanged even otherwise. We wanted him to be hanged publicly. He might have hanged because of shame. Now we are waiting for the four others to be sent to gallows," he said.
Lawyers appearing for Singh and four others said "there is some foul play" behind the death.
"There is some foul play. He cannot commit suicide. He is not such a person that he can commit suicide. He was very happy with the way the trial was going on," advocate V K Anand, who represents Singh and his brother Mukesh, alleged.
M L Sharma, who appeared for Singh initially, also alleged that Singh was killed by police.
Mamata Sharma, National Women's Commission chairperson, raised questions about the functioning of Tihar Jail, saying it was "shocking" that the administration could not protect the undertrial and demanded an inquiry.
Former Tihar Director General Kiran Bedi said only an inquiry will tell under what special watch was he and what happened to that watch. "How did this man give this watch a slip? I think we need to wait for the inquiry," she said.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh