Mass protests across India as victim of gang-rape cremated

Mon, Dec 31, 2012, 00:00

A 23-year-old Indian woman who died after she was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi was cremated in the capital early yesterday amid a nationwide outpouring of grief and anger as millions demanded stricter laws against sexual violence.

The unnamed woman was cremated at a private ceremony hours after her body arrived in Delhi on a special government charter from Singapore, where she died of multiple organ failure at a hospital on Saturday.

Security was tight at the crematorium with no access provided to the public or media.

Commentators and sociologists say the rape, which took place earlier this month, had tapped in to a deep well of frustration many Indians felt over what they saw as weak governance and poor leadership on social issues.

Mass protests

Yesterday tens of thousands of Indians lit candles, held prayer meetings, sang protest songs and marched through towns and cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata to express their grief and demand protection for women and the death penalty for rapists. Rape carries a maximum of life imprisonment or 14 years in jail.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon added his voice to those demanding change, calling for “further steps and reforms to deter such crimes and bring perpetrators to justice”.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s administration has been vilified for its feeble response to the December 16th rape and is anxious about a backlash.

Large parts of central Delhi where government offices are concentrated were cordoned off for the second day yesterday to curb protests that have led to traffic chaos.

Meenakshi Ganguly, south Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the young woman’s death was a sobering reminder of widespread sexual violence in India.

“The outrage now should lead to law reform that criminalises all forms of sexual assault, strengthens mechanisms for implementation and accountability, so that the victims are not blamed and humiliated,” Ms Ganguly said.

Women across India face daily harassment ranging from catcalls on the streets, to groping on public transport, to rape.

According to official statistics one rape is reported every 28 minutes in India and the incidence is rising unchecked.

Women who are sexually assaulted are often blamed for the crime, with police and legislators claiming it was because they wore revealing clothing or were out after dark.

Fear of ridicule

Such attitudes have discouraged women from reporting rape for fear of exposing their families to ridicule and a corrupt, insensitive police force.

Police stations often refuse to accept complaints from those who report rape and the rare prosecutions that reach the courts drag on for decades.

In Delhi alone there has been only one conviction from more than 600 rape cases reported in 2012. The city has been dubbed India’s “rape capital” by many newspapers and television news channels. – (Additional reporting Reuters)