NEW DELHI | 29th Dec 2012
Indian protestors sit behind lighted candles during a protest in New Delhi on December 29, 2012. after the death of a gangrape victim from the Indian capital. AFP
he Delhi-based victim of the 16 December gang rape in a moving bus was "shifted to Singapore when it was already clear that she would not survive the next 48 hours," a senior official connected with logistics claimed. He added that "soon after the protests, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit wanted the victim to be transferred to a better hospital than Safdarjung" (most likely Medanta in Gurgaon). According to him, this request by the CM was rejected as "those in the decision-making loop (presumably the Prime Minister and the Home Minister) were worried that secrecy would no longer be maintained were the victim to be transferred from the government-run Safdarjung Hospital to Medanta". According to the official, who is unwilling to reveal his identity, there was considerable disquiet among a section of the medical staff about the late-night decision on 27 December to transfer the battered girl out of the country, in view of the trauma and strain that a such a major shift would entail. His claim is that the decision (to shift the patient to Singapore) was taken because "those at the top felt that public reaction would be less severe, were her death to occur out of the country". A question that is likely never to be satisfactorily answered is whether the cardiac arrest the victim suffered — and which resulted in irreversible brain damage — was exacerbated by the shift, or would have resulted in her death anyway. The Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Home Affairs both claim that the decision to shift the victim to Singapore was taken solely "according to the wishes of the doctors attending on her" at Safdarjung Hospital. They portray the move to Singapore as proof that the Manmohan Singh government "left no stone unturned to try and save the life of the girl", and deny that her health situation was "already hopeless" when the decision was taken to move her out of the country.
The official agreed that the hospital in question in the city-state had much better facilities for an organ transplant than Safdarjung Hospital, but pointed out that "the time for such a measure would come only after her overall vital parameters stabilised", and that this could have been done in either Safdarjung Hospital or at Medanta. He claimed that the decision to shift the patient to Singapore was seen by some medical staff as a "desperate move by a government nervous at the reaction to the possible death of the victim in a government hospital" rather than a genuine effort at saving a precious life. "All that the government wants is to somehow manage the perception situation till the public cools down," before going back to business as usual. He adds that "intelligence agencies have recorded that the routine measures announced after the rape, such as the appointment of a commission headed by a retired judge, has done nothing to dampen public anger at the bad policing which is at the heart of the law and order crisis in Delhi". It remains to be seen whether the death of the victim abroad rather than at home will ensure that public anger gets dampened. Given the country's justice system, a legal expert said that "fast-tracking the trial of the six accused will be almost impossible, for they each have a constitutional right to appeal to higher courts, besides the obvious fact that one of only two witnesses to the crime (both victims) is now dead and unable to testify". Others point to the allegedly "slipshod and dilatory way in which crucial evidence was gathered in the case", including not preventing the possible destruction of evidence caused by subsequently cleaning the bus in which the rape and murder took place, as evidence. However, the Delhi Police point out that all six culprits were identified and apprehended within hours, as proof of their performance.
Unless a public hearing takes place, which involve all those who handled the situation after the criminal act was committed, including the policepersons, doctors and others at the crime scene and by the hospital bed of the victim, it may be impossible to know if the Manmohan Singh government is being truthful in its repeated claims that the 23-year-old victim was shifted from Delhi to Singapore not so that her death would take place on foreign soil but solely with a view towards saving her life. Doctors of high reputation and integrity — both from Safdarjung Hospital and Medanta — are involved in the case, and it is unlikely that they would jeopardise their careers and their reputations by revealing anything other than the truth. A full and public enquiry is the only way forward in such a sensitive matter, rather than — as usual — a small group coming to conclusions in seclusion. The question needing to be answered is: Was the victim already beyond hope when the decision was made to shift her to Singapore? Also, if not, what was the advantage of the other country when it came to the immediate question of stabilizing the condition of the patient, when world-class facilities exist within the National Capital Region itself for that very purpose? The official who claims that the victim was shifted to divert responsibility rather than to seek to save her life says that "all those involved in this cynical exercise know the truth, including diplomats involved". However, this view is controverted by those claiming that the government did all that was humanely possible to save a precious and innocent life, reportedly including spending a total of Rs 6 crores on transfer to Singapore and treatment there. An official involved in some of the decisions asked why, "if the family of the girl is satisfied (with what the government has done), why should others point fingers?" Whatever be the reactions of the victim's family, the incident is generating many more questions than answers with each passing day.