The principal accused in the fatal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi last December has committed suicide in jail early this morning.
Officials said Ram Singh, one of six under trial in the sensational rape case hanged himself by using his clothes in Delhi’s Tihat Jail around 5.15 am local time.
Singh’s body has been sent for an autopsy and the jail authorities have ordered an inquiry into the incident.
Forensic investigators have arrived at the jail to conduct investigations into the suicide.
Singh, who along with his brother Mukesh was one of five men arrested over the attack, was the driver of the bus in which the 23-year-old was raped on the night of 16 Dec last year.
The sixth, 17-year old suspect is being held in Delhi’s juvenile home. He is also being tried separately.
All the five accused were lodged in isolated cells in the jail after other inmates had attacked and beaten them soon after they were arrested with days of the rape.
Officials said they were under "suicide watch" as the jail authorities feared that overcome with guilt and the massive public outrage they could take their own lives.
A senior jailor was deputed to specially oversee the five.
“It is shocking how Singh could have committed suicide under these circumstances in the most high security jail in the country” Mamta Sharma head of the National Commission for Women said.
Legal experts said the suicide could "adversely impact" the trial by weakening the prosecutions case.
Prosecutor Dayan Krishnan had earlier claimed the prosecution had sufficient forensic evidence to secure a conviction and would seek the death penalty for this "rarest of rare cases". The fast track court is expected to deliver its judgment over the next few weeks.
"He knew he was going to die anyway because we had and still have such a strong case against him," the victim's 20-year-old brother told Reuters.
"I'm not very thrilled with the news that he killed himself because I wanted him to be hanged ... publicly. Him dying on his own terms seems unfair. But, oh well, one is down. Hopefully the rest will wait for their death sentence."
Police said they had DNA evidence allegedly linking the defendants to the rape in addition to the victim's hospital-bed declaration and the testimony of her 28-year old male companion.
The 23-year old girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, suffered massive intestinal injuries during the assault in which she was violated with an iron bar on a bus she and her male friend innocently clambered aboard on their way home from a seeing a film.
She died 13 days later at a Singapore medical facility where the government, under pressure from tens of thousands of outraged demonstrators in Delhi and across India, had her admitted in a desperate bid to save her life.
The attack sparked demands for change in the manner in which India deals with sex crimes with police often refusing to file rape cases and courts rarely delivering speedy justice in the few that do get filed.
This resulted in the federal government introduced stricter laws for sexual offences.
But conviction in rape cases is rare. Only one of 706 rape cases filed in Delhi last year, for instance, ended in conviction
The massive outcry over the rape case too has had little effect in Delhi which has recorded four rape cases every day since January.
According to figures revealed in parliament last week 181 rape cases were registered in the capital between January 1 and February 15.
This is twice the number registered during the same period last year.