New Delhi: People across the country continued to agitate for greater protection for women against sexual violence after the woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi died on Saturday.
The 23-year-old succumbed to injuries at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, where she was shifted on Wednesday night after her condition worsened at Safdarjung Hospital in the national capital.
The body of the medical student was cremated at a private ceremony in New Delhi on Sunday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party, were at the airport to receive the body and meet the family members of the victim who were on the flight.
Hours after the woman died early Saturday, police charged the six men arrested in the case with murder, adding to accusations that they beat and gang-raped the woman on a bus on 16 December.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar grounds for peaceful protests to express their grief and outrage. Protests were also held in Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata.
“It is a very serious cause. I am here because I have a 10-year-old daughter and I need to give her answers, too,” said Vishwash Makhija, 42, who owns a travel company and was present at the Jantar Mantar protest. “Nobody cares, nobody listens, and nobody does anything. We have a democracy, but it does not function.”
“While some people feel that the anger has increased because of the death of the girl, what actually unites the people here is the pain for the agony of the victim,” said Yogita Chakraborty, a 32-year-old health activist who fasted for a day on Sunday at Jantar Mantar. “People are here thinking about what she must have gone through and that it could happen to anyone around us.”
But even as thousands mourned the rape victim’s death, in a sign of how pervasive such crimes are, police in West Bengal were investigating another suspected gang-rape and death. In this case, the family of a woman said she and her husband were attacked by six men as they returned home after working at a brick factory.
They dragged the woman into a nearby farm after pouring acid into her husband’s mouth, the family said. The woman was found dead with multiple injuries, said police officer Bhaskar Mukherjee, adding that he was waiting for an autopsy report. No charges have been laid. Another police officer, Sugata Sen, said four men had been detained for questioning.
Dozens of protesters tried to break through a police cordon on Sunday and march to the Parliament building in the capital, but were pushed back. The protesters, belonging to the student wing of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, shouted anti-government slogans as they marched.
Hundreds of policemen have sealed off the high-security area, where the seat of India’s government is located, in anticipation of more protests. The area is home to Parliament, the President’s palace, the Prime Minister’s office and several ministries.
Gandhi assured protesters in a statement that the Delhi rape victim’s death “deepens our determination to battle the pervasive, the shameful social attitudes and mindset that allow men to rape and molest women and girls with such an impunity”.
The public anger continues to grow because of the realization that the problem cuts across all sections of society, Vrinda Grover, a lawyer and a human rights activist, said in New Delhi.
“People are looking for answers because those answers are difficult and they are not going to get it overnight,” Grover said. “However, there is a little bit of responsibility that we must hold as citizens when we take the system or the state to be accountable for something.”
Politicians have drawn heavy flak over the responses to the crime.
Political parties have “lost touch with ground realities” to deal with a situation like this, said Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist and former teacher at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“All the political parties are functioning over old ideological formulations, whereas things have changed a lot in the society, and they are not able to capture that,” Gupta said. “No political party in India has been able to understand how things are changing on the ground.”
PTI contributed to this story.