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Body of rape victim brought home to India

Suspects could face death penalty

Protesters lifted candles during a rally in New Delhi following the cremation of the woman who was gang-raped.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters lifted candles during a rally in New Delhi following the cremation of the woman who was gang-raped.

NEW DELHI — The body of a young woman who was raped in New Delhi this month by several men in a moving bus was brought home Sunday, a day after the police said that six men accused of attacking her had been charged with murder.

Airport security officials said the plane landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport from Singapore, where the woman was undergoing treatment, and that the woman’s body was whisked away.

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, president of the governing Congress Party, received the body along with senior police officials amid growing public pressure on the government to increase efforts to protect women from violence.

The 23-year-old victim was cremated at a private ceremony in southwest New Delhi that was attended by family, friends, and a few politicians.

Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi, who had been booed away by protesters on Saturday, was spotted leaving the crematorium, a Reuters report said. There was heavy police deployment during the funeral.

New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said the six suspects could face the death penalty if convicted in the Dec. 16 attack, which shocked India because of its savagery and led to violent protests. It prompted demands for improved protection for women, as well as calls for the death penalty in rape cases.

Organizers of the protests denounced what they consider a lax attitude by police toward sexual crimes, including frequent refusals to accept sex crime complaints and long delays in prosecuting such crimes.

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The country’s Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that the death penalty should be used only in the ‘‘rarest of rare’’ cases, and fewer than 50 people have been executed since India’s independence in 1947.

After 10 days at a hospital in New Delhi, the victim, who has not been identified, was taken Thursday to Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth hospital, which specializes in multiorgan transplants, but her condition worsened. She died Saturday morning. The hospital said she had an infection in her lungs and abdomen, liver damage, and a brain injury, and died from organ failure.

After news of her death spread Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Indians lit candles, held prayer meetings, and staged marches across the country, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Calcutta.

The woman has become a symbol for the treatment of women in India, where rape is common and conviction rates for the crime are low. She boarded a bus with a male friend after watching a movie at a mall, and was raped and attacked with an iron rod by the men, who the police later said had been drinking and were on a ‘‘joy ride.’’

In a sign of how pervasive such crimes are, police in West Bengal state said Sunday they are investigating another suspected gang rape and death, the Associated Press reported.

In the latest case, the family of a woman said she and her husband were attacked by six men as they returned home after working at a brick factory. The men dragged the woman into a nearby farm after pouring acid into her husband’s mouth, the family said. The woman was found dead with multiple injuries, said police Officer Bhaskar Mukherjee, adding he was waiting for an autopsy report. No charges have been brought, but four men have been detained for questioning.

After the death of the bus attack victim, advocates used social networks to organize protests and vigils. Just a tiny percent of India’s people can afford computers or have access to the Internet, but young, educated Indians have become increasingly galvanized over the New Delhi case.

Dozens of protesters tried to break through a police cordon Sunday and march to the Parliament building in the Indian capital, but were pushed back, according to the Associated Press. The protesters, belonging to the student wing of main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, shouted antigovernment slogans as they marched.

Hundreds of police officers have sealed off the high-security area, the seat of India’s government, in anticipation of more protests.

Gandhi assured the protesters in a statement Sunday that the rape victim’s death ‘‘deepens our determination to battle the pervasive, the shameful social attitudes and mindset that allow men to rape and molest women and girls with such an impunity.’’

The United Nations issued a statement saying Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ‘‘offers his sincerest condolences’’ to the victim’s family and ‘‘utterly condemns this brutal crime.’’

‘‘Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated,’’ the statement said. ‘‘Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued, and protected.’’

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