29 Dec 2012

Death of gang raped woman sparks calls for calm in India

India’s leaders have urged calm amid widespread protests after a woman who was savagely gang raped on a Delhi bus died of her injuries.

Thousands of people took the streets of New Delhi after the 23-year-old woman, who has not been named, died last night at a hospital in Singapore. She had been transferred to Mount Elizabeth Hospital on Thursday evening after suffering organ failure, including brain damage, as a result of injuries suffered during the attack, on December 16.

Kelvin Loh, the chief executive of Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said that she died peacefully in her sleep at 4.45am local time with her family by her side. A large section of her intestine had to be removed after the attack, during which six men raped and attacked her with iron bars before throwing her from a moving bus in Delhi as she returned from from the cinema with her boyfriend after watching Life of Pi. She also suffered a heart attack.

This morning, authorities in India deployed hundreds of armed police and riot troops, closed 10 metro stations and banned vehicles from some roads in the heart of New Delhi where demonstrators had convered since the attack. Hundreds of people staged peaceful protests at two locations.

‘Immediate action’

Around 4,000 people gathered at the Jantar Mantar observatory, where protests are still permitted, carrying banners demanding “immediate action to strengthen the laws against sexual violence”.

Candlelit vigils for the woman are also being held, and protests were scheduled for other cities across the country including Calcutta and Mumbai.

Delhi’s police commissioner Neeraj Kumar urged the public to remain calm, as did Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He said that he was “deeply saddened” by her death and pledged action over the “brutal assault”.

“We have already seen the emotions and energies this incident has generated,” Mr Singh said. “These are perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change. It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channelise these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action.”

Amid questions over whether the death would serve as a tipping point in India, where activists are growing increasingly frustrated with a perceived lack of action over sexual violence, which appears to be rising yet has seen a declining conviction rate, Mr Singh said: “The need of the hour is a dispassionate debate and inquiry into the critical changes that are required in societal attitudes.

“I hope that the entire political class and civil society will set aside narrow sectional interests and agenda to help us all reach the end that we all desire – making India a demonstrably better and safer place for women to live in.”

Mamta Sharma, head of the state-run National Commission for Women, said the “time has come for strict laws” to stop violence against women. “The society has to change its mindset to end crimes against women,” she said.

‘India’s daughter’

The body of the woman, who is now being called “India’s daughter”, has been taken to a Hindu casket firm in Singapore for embalming. Her body is to be flown back to India for her funeral.

Six suspects held in connection with the case, from a slum in New Delhi, have been charged with murder, police said. Two police officers have also been suspended, amid allegations that they failed to properly investigate the case.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told Times Now television that the government was committed to ensuring “the severest possible punishment to all the accused at the earliest”.

“It will not go in vain. We will give maximum punishment to the culprits. Not only to this, but in future also. This one incident has given a greater lesson,” the minister said.

Watch: Booker-prize winning author, Arundhati Roy, discussing rape in India