New Delhi: In a mysterious twist in the gruesome Delhi gang-rape-cum-murder case, prime accused Ram Singh allegedly committed suicide in Tihar Jail early on Monday morning but his family and lawyers claimed it was a murder.
In a development that raised questions over monitoring of undertrials, jail officials said, Ram Singh (35), who has a slight deformity in his right hand after an accident, hanged himself from a rod in the ceiling of his cell in Jail No 3 using his clothes.
However, officials, including Tihar Director General Vimla Mehra, declined to give details of how the death could have taken place, adding to its mystery.
An official statement of the jail authorities merely said Singh was "found hanging at 5:45 am".
"The matter is being enquired into by the Judicial Officer as per Sec 176 of CrPC. The exact cause of death could be known after receipt of inquiry officer report, which also includes post mortem examination, report by forensic experts," it said.
Sources said the suicide might have taken place between 3:30 AM and 5:30 am. During the change of guard at 3:30 am, everything was alrght. But at the next change of guard two hours later, Singh was found dead, they said.
Meanwhile, security for the other four adult accused has been stepped up in the wake of today`s development.
The news of death of Singh, a driver, immediately triggered demands from his lawyers and family for a CBI probe. They alleged that he was murdered inside the jail and refused to accept that he had committed suicide.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who was met by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit earlier in the day, told a news conference that preliminary inquiry suggested that Singh committed suicide. He termed the incident as "grave" and a "major lapse" on the part of the prison department.
"Everything will come out in the inquiry by a
magistrate," Shinde said when asked about allegations that Singh was murdered.
Forensic experts and a Delhi Police team the Jail premises to collect evidences. Singh was under depression for the past couple of days and last evening, 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. Three 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", which was later lifted as he started socialising a bit, 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 was taken to AIIMS for post mortem.
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.
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 have fractures.
"I am also demanding that the post mortem be held infront me," Singh`s father Mange Ram 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," the brother 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 VK Anand, who represents Singh and his brother Mukesh, alleged.
Lawyer AP Singh, appearing for Vinay Sharma and Akshay Singh, said that Ram Singh was "killed by jail authorities" and that Tihar is no longer safe for under-trials.
ML 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.