Jan 12, 2013, 05.55 PM IST
In a village in Uttar Pradesh, a woman sits hunched on the ground in a green shawl, visibly weak and shivering in the January cold. She says she has not eaten for days, and neither have her five young children.
She has never heard of Manmohan Singh, India's Prime Minister, having never ventured further from her village than a nearby market town, and ekes out a living working in potato fields on other people's land.
Her eldest son left home when he was 11. He never returned, and the woman thought he was dead. The first news she got of him was when police from New Delhi turned up at her brick hut to say he had been arrested for the gang rape and death of a student, a crime whose brutality stunned India.
In an interview with Reuters, the mother of the juvenile, the youngest of six members of the gang accused of the attack, recalled the son who left home five or six years ago for the bright lights, and seemed stunned by the accusation against him.
"Today, the infamy he earned is eating me up," his mother said as villagers stood and stared. "I can't even sit with two other people in the village because of the shame that my son has brought to the family."
A 23-year-old physiotherapy student was beaten and raped on a moving bus in the Indian capital on December 16. She was left bleeding on a highway and died two weeks later from internal injuries.
The five men who have been charged with rape and murder are all expected to plead not guilty. One says police tortured him.
The sixth member of the gang, the woman's son, is being processed as a juvenile and has not been charged. He will be tried separately.
Police have said they are conducting bone tests to determine his age as they suspect he may be over 18 years old. Reuters is withholding his name for this story.
The trial of the five men is due to start within weeks.
It is from a life of rural penury that the youth sought to escape, one of about two million Indians who migrate to cities every year, chasing an economic boom that has propelled India for the past two decades but has trickled down slowly to its poor.
Conversations with relatives, neighbours and police show the extent to which the accused lived on the margins of the city's emerging prosperity, holding menial jobs and living in a slum.
Their lives stand in contrast with that of the victim.
She was also from a humble background but funded her studies by taking a job in one of the call centres that are a hallmark of modern India's economy and have helped build an aspirational new middle class.
According to his mother, the youth joined a group of other village boys travelling to New Delhi, found work in a roadside eatery and - for the first year - used to send Rs 600 a month back to his family.
After he stopped sending money, his mother never heard from him again. At first she thought he might have been forced into bonded labour. Later, she presumed he was dead. A couple of months before the rape, she consulted a Hindu holy man about her son, whom she remembered as a good boy.
"The holy man told me that someone has practiced some black magic on him, but that he would come back," she said.
Living on the breadline and with a husband who is mentally ill, the mother works in fields with her daughters to feed her family. Halfway through the conversation with Reuters, she fainted, apparently from hunger, and had to be carried to bed.
About half of her village are landless labourers, and about a quarter of all men migrate to cities in search of work, according to farmer Vijay Pal.
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