Jyoti Singh Pandey Gang Rape Trial: Accused Hangs Himself in Jail

Ram Singh, the alleged leader behind the December gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi is believed to have committed suicide in his jail cell on the morning of March 10. 

Singh was being held in Tihar Prison, the main prison in New Delhi. Despite being on suicide watch and sharing his cell with two other inmates, Singh was apparently still able to use his bedding and a string from his pants to make a noose to hang himself with. He was found hanging from the ceiling according to jail officials.

Singh's attorney, V.K. Anand doesn't believe the suicide is likely because the prison is a high security one. Anand also told local networks that Singh had no reason to commit suicide, and was happy with the way the legal proceedings were progressing. Singh's father is also skeptical; he says it was impossible for him to have hung himself due to an injury he sustained to his arm in 2009. 

Singh, four other men, and one juvenile were charged with the kidnapping, rape and murder of the 23-year-old woman. If convicted, the men could face the death penalty. The 17-year-old juvenile who is also charged in the attack will face a maximum of three years detention. 

The trial is being held in a special fast-track court after outrage from the rape and murder resulted in widespread protests and garnered international attention. Trials in India can take as long as a decade.

The attorney for two of the other men charged in the case also raised concerns over the security inside the prison, "how is it possible for a prisoner to hang himself inside a jail cell? Is Tihar's security so weak? My clients are terrified, scared, they fear for their safety." 

There is obvious outrage of Singh's death. The prison houses some 12,000 inmates but was built to accommodate only about 6,000. CNN reports that the prison recorded 18 deaths and two suicides last year. The victim’s father spoke to the news media yesterday to express his outrage.

"We don't understand how could the police fail to protect Ram Singh. They knew he was the prime accused in my daughter's case. How could they let him choose the way he wanted to die? The police have failed and I wonder what will happen to the case now."

What this means for the trial, which is scheduled to resume on Tuesday, is not yet known. Other attorney's not affiliated with the case believe that it won't affect the outcome of the trial.  

The women's group, All India Progressive Women's Association, believes that the significance of this case could be muddled as attention turns to the death of Singh. Activist Kiran Bedi said, "the fact that the main accused is not there is something which is going to affect the case. It is condemnable, and needs to be inquired into."  

There are many that will be happy with the death of Singh. Singh, who is described by his neighbors as a drunk with a temper, still deserved to face trial in court along with the other men responsible for this heinous crime. 

The outrage that spread across India over the rape and murder of this woman sparked many to share their own stories and histories of sexual violence. This case will almost assuredly set a legal and cultural precedent for how rape and sexual assault cases are dealt with. 

Those who stand accused also deserve the right to a trial. The fact that this man was able to allegedly hang himself inside a high security prison while he was on 24-hour watch should raise serious concern about the conditions inside that prison.

Singh's death represents an obvious barrier to justice being meted out. It also sheds light on a criminal justice system that is clearly broken in more ways that one.