Gang Rape in India Galvanizes Nation

Indian protesters demonstrate in New Delhi after the death of the student brutally gang-raped on a bus. Some of the placards say "New year will be for the freedom of women." (Photograph: Manish Swarup / AP)

Gang Rape in India Galvanizes Nation

Tens of thousands protest demanding stronger sexual assault laws, focus on women's rights

Hundreds of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University marched silently through the streets of South Delhi Saturday night to the bus stop where a 23-year-old woman was picked up before being gang raped and murdered on December 16.

The shocking violence of the incident perpetrated by six men--now all charged with murder and facing the death penalty--has galvanized tens of thousands of women and men across India, who since the brutal rape are protesting in the streets throughout India, demanding stronger sexual assault laws and an increased focus on women's rights.

"There's a movement that has been built out of this," said Ruchira Sen, 25, a student of economics, toldThe New York Times. "We are going to do everything it takes to make it last."

Many are blaming politicians for lax laws and on Monday hundreds of protesters marched outside Parliament. Some held cards saying "You are an inspiration to us all," The New York Timesreports.

A commission led by a retired Supreme Court judge to consider tougher rape laws has already received more than 6,000 emails, McClatchy reports.

Politicians have called for a special session of Parliament to pass new laws increasing punishment for rapists, possibly including chemical castration, the AP reports.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said, "The outrage now should lead to law reform that criminalizes all forms of sexual assault, strengthens mechanisms for implementation and accountability, so that the victims are not blamed and humiliated."

But others say the violent rape is a symptom of a misogynistic, patriarchal culture.

While many, including Sushma Swaraj, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, called the woman "the daughter of the entire nation," Jason Burke of the Observerwrites that among the causes is a continuing inability to see women in any role other than mother, child or spouse. Even in death she has been confined to one of these three categories.

"That girl could have been any one of us," Sangeetha Saini, 44, who took her two teenage daughters to a candle-filled demonstration on Sunday in Delhi, toldThe New York Times. Women in India "face harassment in public spaces, streets, on buses ... We can only tackle this by becoming Durga," she added, referring to the female Hindu god who slays a demon.

"Being a woman, I feel it is not just about these six people who have been arrested. It is about everything that goes wrong against women. It is about child abuse, it is about domestic violence, it is about rape, it is about molestation, even teasing. And a very simple thing that we can do, both men and women, is that we need to raise our voices," Anjali, a protester in Bangalore, told the Hindustan Times.

"If we see anything wrong happening, we need to raise our voice. If it is happening with us, we need to raise our voice. If it is in our surroundings that something wrong is happening, we need to raise our voice," she added.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, said that the country was failing in its basic responsibility to protect its citizens.

"I have never heard so many people who felt so deep down hurt," she said. "It will definitely have some impact."

"Let us hope that 2013 will be the year the tide is turned on violence against women in India and all women can walk free without fear," UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said Monday. "The public is demanding a transformation in systems that discriminate against women to a culture that respects the dignity of women in law and practice."

Last year, a rape was reported on average every 20 minutes in India. Just 26 percent of the cases resulted in convictions, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, which registered 24,206 rapes in 2011, up from 22,141 the previous year, according to CNN.

And victims frequently report the police are slow to respond to attacks, fail to believe their stories, and shame them when they report the rape.

Last week, an 18-year-old woman in Punjab State committed suicide by drinking poison after being raped by two men and then humiliated by male police officers, who made her describe her attack in detail several times, then tried to encourage her to marry one of her rapists.

"India, a rising economic power and the world's largest democracy, can never reach its full potential if half its population lives in fear of unspeakable violence," an editorial Friday in The New York Times said.

"So much needs to be done to end the oppression of women," Murarinath Kushwaha, a man whose two friends were on a hunger strike to draw attention to the issue, told the Associated Press.

The men were only a few among many who are participating in the protests. Still, The New York Timesreports, at the Dec. 22 and 23 marches, police received 42 complaints about men's behavior, but an unidentified police officer said the men were merely "eve-teasing."

The Hindustan Timesreleased this video news segment of the protests:

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