SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The condition of the medical student whose gang rape triggered mass protests has deteriorated and there are signs her vital organs have failed, the Singapore hospital treating her said.
The 23-year-old, who was severely beaten, raped and thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi, was flown to Singapore by the Indian government on Wednesday for specialist treatment.
Most rapes and other sex crimes in India go unreported and offenders are rarely punished, women's rights activists say. But the brutality of the assault on December 16 triggered public outrage and demands for both better policing and harsher punishment for rapists.
The case has received blanket coverage on cable television news channels. The woman has not been identified but some media have called her "Amanat", an Urdu word meaning "treasure".
"As of 9 p.m. Singapore time on Dec 28 (1300 GMT), the patient's condition has taken a turn for the worse. Her vital signs are deteriorating, with signs of severe organ failure," Mount Elizabeth Hospital Chief Executive Kelvin Loh said in a statement on Friday.
"Her family members have been informed that her condition has deteriorated and they are currently by her side to encourage and comfort her," he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been battling criticism that it was tone-deaf to the outcry and heavy-handed in its response to the protests in New Delhi.
Some Indian medical experts questioned the decision to airlift the woman to Singapore, calling it a risky manoeuvre given the seriousness of her injuries. They said she was already receiving the best possible care in India, which possesses world-class medical facilities.
FIGHTING FOR HER LIFE
The Singapore hospital said earlier on Friday that the woman had suffered "significant brain injury" and was surviving against the odds. She had already undergone three abdominal operations before being flown to Singapore.
Demonstrations over the lack of safety for women erupted across India after the attack, culminating last weekend in pitched battles between police and protesters in the heart of New Delhi.
If the woman dies it could trigger new protests and possibly fresh confrontations with the police, especially in the Indian capital, which has been the focus of the demonstrations.
New Delhi has been on edge since the weekend clashes. Hundreds of policemen have been deployed on the streets of the capital and streets leading to the main protest site, the India Gate war memorial, have been shut for long periods, causing commuter chaos in the city of 16 million.
Political commentators and sociologists say the rape has tapped into a deep well of frustration that many Indians feel over what they see as weak governance and poor leadership on social and economic issues.
Many protesters have complained that Singh's government has done little to curb the abuse of women in the country of 1.2 billion. A global poll by Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found that India was the worst place to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery.
New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011.
"We share the anguish and anger with the country over this heinous crime," Prime Minister Singh told reporters on Friday. "Our prayers are with the brave young girl and best possible medical care is being provided to her."
(Writing by Kevin Lim in Singapore and Ross Colvin in New Delhi; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)