Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Families of Delhi Rape Convicts Feel the Pressure

NEW DELHI—The four men convictedTuesday in the December rape and murder of a 23-year-old student cut short her life and forever altered those of her parents and brothers. They also claimed another set of victims: their own relatives.

Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Akshay Kumar Singh could face the death penalty or life imprisonment when they are sentenced on Friday.

The consequences of their crime already are rippling through their families, who are dealing with social opprobrium as well as with lost income and exhausted savings that threaten to push their households deeper into poverty.

The Hindu notion of karma, which says people deserve to suffer the consequences of wrong actions, adds to the stigma attached to criminals and casts a shadow on their families.

Mukesh Singh\'s parents lived in Ravi Dass Camp, a slum in south Delhi. It is home mostly to migrant workers and the drivers of the auto-rickshaws, taxis and buses that ply the streets of the Indian capital. The 300 families that crowd the settlement share a single water tap.

Mukesh Singh and his older brother, Ram, 33 years old at the time of the attack, were both charged in the gang-rape case. Ram\'s body was found in his jail cell in March. Authorities said he committed suicide. His family disputes that. The death is under investigation.

Lawyers for the four convicted men argued Wednesday against capital punishment for their clients, all of whom denied guilt during the trial. Defense attorneys for the men have said they would appeal the guilty verdicts.

Ram Singh, the regular driver of a school bus in which the rape attack occurred, used his 12,000-rupee, or about $187, monthly salary to pay the private-school tuition of his six-year-old adopted son and to buy food and medicines for his elderly parents.

With Mukesh behind bars and Ram dead, the Singh family is relying solely on income from Suresh Singh, 27 years old, the middle brother, who earns 9,000 rupees a month as a private chauffeur.

Suresh Singh and his wife are the biological parents of Ram Singh\'s adopted son, but they gave the child to Ram Singh and his wife who were unable to have a baby of their own. After Ram\'s wife died in 2008, the boy returned to live with Suresh Singh. Suresh now needs to support himself, his wife, parents and two sons including the six-year-old.

Since Ram and Mukesh Singhs\' arrests, the boy has been withdrawn from private school and now goes to a free government school. The Singhs\' parents, who have asthma, heart and eye ailments, said they have had to forgo treatment.

\"Sons give support to the parents, who else does?\" asked Kalyani Devi, the Singhs\' mother. \"We spent all our earnings on our sons, thinking they will grow up and look after us.\" She added: \"My Ram Singh was good. The world made him a monster.\"

The Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins present an e-book that provides the most informative and in-depth reporting on crimes against women on the subcontinent and will aid in the national dialogue about how India can better treat its women. Buy the book here.

Rape Victim\'s Death Stirs Outrage and Resolve Dec. 31, 2012

New Delhi Attack: The Victim\'s Story Jan. 9, 2013

Rape Victim\'s Friend Describes Their Love Story Jan. 30, 2013

On India\'s Streets, Women Run a Gantlet of Harassment Feb. 27, 2013

Ms. Devi and her husband moved their family to Delhi 25 years ago from rural Rajasthan and worked for years as laborers on construction sites. Their children left school early to work in construction before finding jobs driving.

On some Sundays, when he wasn\'t working, Ram Singh would sit at home and quietly sip alcohol, Ms. Devi said.

\"Son, what are you doing?\" Ms. Devi said she used to ask her son. \"Mama, nothing at all,\" she said Ram would reply, while trying to hide the alcohol bottle and glass from her.

On a visit to see Ram Singh in jail, Ms. Devi said, she asked him why the police had arrested him. \"Because it was my bus,\" he replied, according to Ms. Devi. \"Mama, I was given too much alcohol to drink. I don\'t know what happened.\"

In India, an untarnished family name is the currency of social relations. Suresh Singh said he feels that people view him with suspicion when they know about his brothers. \"People give me a look of \'he could also be like them\',\" he said.

Ravi Dass Camp, a south Delhi slum where three of the four men found guilty in the Dec. 16 gang rape lived.

Vinay Sharma, who worked as a gym assistant before the December attack, was a critical contributor to his family\'s precarious finances. The 3,000 rupees he earned a month helped pay for diabetes medicine for his 14-year-old sister, Manju.

In the nearly nine months since Mr. Sharma\'s arrest, his family has spent all its savings, erasing hopes that his sister would be able to have reconstructive surgery soon to repair burns on her face from a childhood accident with a kerosene stove.

\"Everybody at home is in a deep worry,\" said Champa Devi, Mr. Sharma\'s mother, 37 years old.

Mr. Sharma\'s family also lives in Ravi Dass, the south Delhi slum area, where his teenage siblings face taunts from neighbors and classmates. His brother and two sisters said they increasingly stay home from school as a result.

\"Did your brother commit gang-rape?\" Mr. Sharma\'s 16-year-old sister, Ilu, said students at her school often ask.

When she asks how they know, she said, they answer: \"From the news.\"
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