NEW DELHI: The suffering of a university student and her male friend who were brutally attacked aboard a bus in India's capital did not end after the woman was gang-raped and both were savagely beaten for 2 1/2 hours. Dumped naked on a roadside, the pair encountered shocking apathy as passersby offered only cursory looks and police debated jurisdiction for 30 minutes before taking them to a hospital, where the man received no treatment as he sat without clothes on the floor for hours, the friend recounted in a television interview.
The interview Friday marked the first time the man, who has not been named, has spoken publicly about the Dec 16 attack in New Delhi.
The attack has outraged Indians and led to calls for tougher rape laws and reforms of a police culture that often blames rape victims and refuses to file charges against accused attackers. The nation's top law enforcement official said the country needs to crack down on crimes against women with "an iron hand".
The 23-year-old woman died last weekend from massive internal injuries suffered during the attack. Authorities charged five men with her murder and rape and were holding a sixth suspect believed to be a juvenile. A hearing in the case was scheduled for Saturday.
On the night of the attack, the woman and her companion had just finished watching the movie "Life of Pi" at an upscale mall and were looking for a ride home. An autorickshaw driver declined to take them, so they boarded the private bus with the six assailants inside, the companion told the Indian TV station Zee News.
Authorities have not named the man because of the sensitivity of the case. Zee News also declined to give his name, although it did show his face during the interview. The man has a broken leg and was sitting in a wheelchair during the interview.
After a while, the men on the bus starting harassing and attacking the pair, he said.
"I gave a tough fight to three of them. I punched them hard. But then two others hit me with an iron rod," he said. The woman tried to call the police using her mobile phone, but the men took it away from her, he said. They then took her to the rear seats of the bus and raped her.
"The attack was so brutal I can't even tell you...even animals don't behave like that," the man said.
Afterward, he overheard some of the attackers saying the woman was dead, he said.
The men then dumped their bleeding and naked bodies under an overpass. The woman's companion waved to passersby on bikes, in autorickshaws and in cars for help, but no one stopped. "They slowed down, looked at our naked bodies and left," he said.
"My friend was grievously injured and bleeding profusely," he said. "Cars, autos and bikes slowed down and sped away. I kept waving for help. The ones who stopped stared at us, discussing what could have happened. Nobody did anything."
After about 20 minutes, three police vans arrived, but the officers argued over who had jurisdiction over the crime as the man pleaded for clothes and an ambulance, he said.
Finally, he said, they were taken to a hospital.
"When we reached the hospital, I sat without clothes on the floor for a long time even as my friend was taken inside for treatment," he said.
The man said he was given no medical care. He then spent four days at the police station helping police investigate the crime. He said he visited his friend in the hospital, told her the attackers were arrested and promised to fight for her.
He said his friend was determined to see that the attackers were punished. "She gave all details of the crime to the magistrate — things we can't even talk about," he said. "She told me that the culprits should be burnt alive."
The man said he gave the TV interview because he hopes it will encourage rape victims to come forward and speak about their ordeals without shame.
"She has awakened us all by her courage," he said of his friend, who died at a Singapore hospital after being flown there for treatment. "People should move ahead in the struggle to prevent a similar crime happening again as a tribute to her."
Most people in India are reluctant to get involved in police business because once they become witnesses, they can be dragged into legal cases that can go on for years. Also, Indian police are often seen less as protectors and more as harassers.
On Friday, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said crimes against women and marginalised sections of society are increasing, and it is the government's responsibility to stop them.
"This needs to be curbed by an iron hand," he told a conference of state officials from across India that was called to discuss how to protect women.
He called for changes in the law and the way police investigate cases so justice can be swiftly delivered. Many rape cases are bogged down in India's overburdened and sluggish court system for years.
"We need a reappraisal of the entire system," he said.
In the wake of the rape, several petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court to take an active role in the issue of women's safety.
On Friday, the court dismissed a petition asking it to suspend Indian lawmakers accused of crimes against women, saying it doesn't have jurisdiction, according to the Press Trust of India. The Association for Democratic Reforms, an organisation that tracks officials' criminal records, said six state lawmakers are facing rape prosecutions and two national parliamentarians are facing charges of crimes against women that fall short of rape.
However, the court did agree to look into the widespread creation of more fast-track courts for accused rapists across the country.