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Society

India continues to mourn deceased rape victim

Peace marches, candlelight vigils and prayer meetings persist across India as millions of people continue to demand greater protection for women from sexual violence.

Rage and mourning persist throughout India even days after the cremation of a young medical student from New Delhi who died after an extremely violent gang-rape in a moving chartered bus on December 16.

The death of the 23-year-old woman popularly christened "Damini," which means lightning and "Nirbhaya," the Hindi word for braveheart, who battled for nearly a fortnight before succumbing to multi-organ failure in a Singapore hospital, has jolted the nation and sparked an unprecedented public debate over violence against women, gender equality and values in a society that often does not take rape seriously.

Death of victim spurs reflection

Students lying down on the road with placards protesting against the rape of the medical student in Delhi.
(Photo: Murali Krishnan/DW)

Peaceful protests continue across India

On New Year's Eve, thousands of students, teachers and concerned families gathered around midnight in Mumbai and New Delhi for a protest called "Reclaim the Night" and demanded the streets become safer for women. In both cities, the program ran almost to script. Participants sang songs, lit candles, spoke out against sexual violence before calmly dispersing into the dead of the night.

"We have to ensure that women get their due rights and for that, mindsets have to change," Lenin Kumar, president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University students' union told DW.

"With her death, everyone feels they have lost someone of their own. In a way, she has united all of us in our resolve to fight the atrocities committed against women in the country."

Peaceful, yet persistent

The protests now have seen a marked departure from the pitched battles that they had been as the young girl was still in hospital. Two weeks ago, the area surrounding the capital's India Gate resembled the likes of a battle ground, with angry protesters throwing stones and police making use of tear gas and water cannon. The violent protests, which persisted over a number of days, resulted in dozens of injuries and the death of one policeman.

A girl lights candles during a candlelight vigil for a gang rape victim who was assaulted in New Delhi, in Kolkata December 29, 2012.(Photo: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

In many cities, New Year's celebrations were replaced with candlelight vigils for the victims of sexual attacks

"The severe protests on Delhi streets and elsewhere have given way to solemn and somber reflection. The idea now is to pressurize the government to act," Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women's Association told DW.

On New Year's Day, an interfaith prayer meeting was held at Mahatma Gandhi's national memorial. It was attended by diplomats, politicians and the Prime Minister's wife, Gursharan Kaur.

On Wednesday, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit flagged off the "March for Safety and Dignity of Women" in which thousands of people participated.

"Women and girls represent half the population and our society has not been fair to this half, Syeda Hameed, a member of India's Planning Commission told DW.

"The empowerment of women must remain a priority."

The tipping point?

The attack which catalyzed massive nationwide demonstrations and reopened the public debate about reforming India's inadequate laws and practices has finally forced the government to rethink the country's legal framework.

Indian policemen stand guard near a protest close to the Jantar Mantar during rally to mourn a gang rape victim in New Delhi, India on 30 December 2012. (Photo: EPA/HARISH TYAGI +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)

Police cordoned off part of the capital to quell demonstrations

The home ministry appointed a 13-member special task force to look into women's safety issues and appointed a retired Supreme Court judge to look into strengthening laws dealing with crimes against women and the punishment of sex offenders.

"While the government's swift action to create a commission to review punishment for aggravated sexual assault is an important step, reform of the criminal law and procedure, plus improved treatment of survivors, is needed to ensure justice for sexual assault victims," said Human Rights Watch, an international watchdog, in a statement.

For now, the nation's anger, though persistent, has cooled down somewhat. But people hope the awful act of hate and injustice against "Braveheart" will force the government to become more pro-active in the fight against sexual violence.

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