The body of the 23-year-old gang-rape victim, who became the focus of prayers and rallying point of an entire nation following her inhuman assault, was cremated here Sunday soon after it was flown in before daybreak from Singapore, officials said. The funeral was a largely private affair attended by close family and a clutch of government officials.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi were present at the airport at 3.30 a.m. to receive the body of the trainee physiotherapist who was assaulted and gang-raped Dec 16 in a moving bus in the national capital. They consoled the family.
According to informed sources, Delhi Police were keen to have the funeral done before daybreak Sunday, just after the body was flown in, but bowed to the wishes of her family to hold it shortly after sunrise as per Hindu custom.
A chartered Air India flight carrying the young woman's body landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport, after which the body was taken to the woman's house in Mahavir Enclave, near Dwarka, in southwest Delhi.
Police were keen to get the funeral done at around 6-6.30 a.m. to prevent angry crowds from collecting. But the woman's family protested, saying that according to Hindu rites the funeral could not be held before sunrise.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders present at the time, including Delhi BJP chief Vijender Gupta, intervened and the funeral was held after sunrise at 7.25 a.m. at a cremation ground in Dwarka, in sector 19.
The time of Sunday's sunrise was 7.13 a.m., a weather official told IANS.
The funeral was held amid tight security with around 100 people attending, including family members, neighbours and top government officials. But the number of policemen far outnumbered the mourners - at more than 1,000, a police source told IANS.
A few hundred people had gathered outside the cremation ground, but were not allowed to enter, BJP leader Gupta told IANS.
Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit attended the funeral.
"I was there as a representative of the government," Singh told IANS. He said the funeral was held amid secrecy "as we wanted to respect the privacy of the family", said Singh.
Singh said the body was brought to the cremation ground at 6.26 a.m. after which funeral rites were performed, including bathing the body and dressing it in a new attire.
According to government sources, Dikshit consoled the family and offered a small prayer for the woman, whose courage and fortitude galvanised the entire nation and led to mass outpouring as protesters came out on the street demanding justice for the woman and harsher punishment for rapists.
The woman's young male friend, who was also attacked by the six rapists, did not attend the cremation ceremony. The 28-year-old man and his family left Saturday night for Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, a police source told IANS.
The leaders laid bouquets as tribute on the pyre, after which a small ceremony was performed and the pyre finally lit.
The woman died in a Singapore hospital early Saturday.
Her body was embalmed after a post-mortem in Singapore and placed in a special casket before being flown to India in a chartered Air India aircraft. The parents of the woman accompanied the body.