NEW DELHI — A man on trial for the gang rape and fatal beating of a 23-year-old student aboard a New Delhi bus committed suicide in an Indian jail Monday, police said, but his lawyer and family allege he was killed.
Ram Singh, who was accused of driving the bus during the December attack, was under suicide watch in a cell with three other inmates at New Delhi's Tihar Jail when he hanged himself with his own clothes about 5:30 a.m., police officials said. His death in custody raised further questions about a criminal justice system already under attack for failing to protect the nation's women.
"It's a grave incident," Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said. "It's a major lapse."
The government had ordered a magistrate's inquiry and would take action after it received the report, he said.
Singh, 33, had been among five defendants facing the death penalty if convicted of the rape attack, which horrified Indians and set off national protests. A sixth accused is being tried and jailed separately because he is a juvenile.
Ram Singh's family and lawyer alleged foul play in his death.
"There were no circumstances which could have led to Ram Singh committing suicide. There was no mental stress. He was very happy," his lawyer V.K. Anand said. Lawyers for the defendants had previously accused police of beating confessions out of the men.