Canadians dialing mortgage call centre may have talked to Indian rape victim

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

There's a Canadian connection to the horrific rape and murder of a young Indian woman.

The Wall Street Journal reports the 23-year-old student who was gang-raped and beaten near to death aboard a private bus in New Delhi just before Christmas worked nights at a call centre helping Canadians with mortgage issues.

A team of Journal correspondents in India pieced together the woman's life through interviews with friends, family members and the young man who was with her the night she was attacked and beaten unconscious.

Although some media outlets have published her name, the Journal and Canadian media have not named her in keeping with Indian law forbidding identification of rape victims. The family's nickname for her was "Bitiya," which means daughter, the Journal said.

Five men and a teenager have been charged with murder and the adults could face the death penalty.

[Related: Three accused in Indian rape case finally get legal help ]

The Globe and Mail said Indian media have partly reported her life story, which is being viewed as the embodiment of India's rapid economic shift.

Born into a poor family of India's Hindu agricultural caste in rural Uttar Pradesh state, she apparently had a thirst for education.

"She was the brightest student in the classroom," a school friend told the Journal.

The family had moved to Delhi before she was born in quest of a better life.

Her father, who worked at various jobs and now is a loader at the city's airport, sold half of the small piece of land he still owned to pay for the education of his daughter and her two teenage brothers., the Journal reported.

At first Bitiya aspired to be a doctor, but the career was out of reach financially and she enrolled in a physiotherapy program offered by a school in Dehradun, a city in the Himalayan foothills. Graduation would lead to a job earning four times the 7,000 rupees (about US$130) her father earned each month.

According to the head of the program, Bitiya blossomed at the school, going from an introverted, submissive young woman in traditional dress to fashion-conscious young lady who moved out of the dormitory and into an apartment with friends. She also helped organize school dance recitals, the Journal said.

To help pay her way through school, she worked overnight shifts at the call centre, an exhausting schedule, according to friends.

"She slept for only two hours" a night, roommate Sheen Kaur told the Journal.

She returned to Delhi in October to look for a volunteer internship, which was required to complete her studies.

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The night of the attack, she met a longtime male friend at an upscale mall to take in a movie, The Life of Pi, based on the fantasy novel by Canadian author Yann Martel.

Going home afterward, they boarded a bus carrying her alleged attackers, who reportedly had been drinking and were driving around looking for "fun." The driver apparently led the couple to believe it was a regular bus, even charging them 20 cents each for tickets.

The other men on the bus taunted the woman with lewd comments, which escalated into a brawl, the Journal said. Bitiya's male friend was knocked unconscious with an iron bar, which apparently later was used to violate her during an extended sexual assault.

They were later dumped naked and bleeding by the side of the road. Bitiya's injuries were so severe the best efforts of doctors at a Singapore hospital were unable to save her and she died two weeks later.