Grief and anger in India after death of Delhi rape victim

The death of a 23-year-old woman who came to symbolize the horrible treatment women face daily in India after she was raped by several men on a moving bus prompted sorrow and rage in India on Saturday morning.

As government officials and the police appealed for calm, protesters in New Delhi were already gathering at Jantar Mantar, a popular site for demonstrations, just after dawn. The roads leading to India Gate, the site of earlier related protests that turned violent, have been barricaded by police, and nearby subway stations were closed. Police officers in riot gear stood on street corners.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his "deepest condolences" in a statement that also asked for "dispassionate debate" about the way society treats women.

"While she may have lost her battle for life, it is up to us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain," he said.

"We have already seen the emotions and energies this incident has generated. 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 channelize these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action.

The need of the hour is a dispassionate debate and inquiry into the critical changes that are required in societal attitudes."

There were heartfelt, yet unspecific demands for immediate action, and calls for change from popular figures, including a tweet from the anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal: "Aren't we all responsible for her death? Can we all now do something so that half of humanity starts feeling safe amongst us?"

Many, like the Hindustan Times newspaper editor Abhijit Majumder, implied there was something rotten in the Indian government that would allow such a rape to happen: "We are guilty of the gangrape of India. We have put our own beloved nation in a dark, moving bus; in the hands of such politicians"

Many others called for a new era for the treatment of women in India, where sexual harassment and abuse is a regular occurrence and conviction of men that commit these crimes is rare:

Her "battered body stood for all the anonymous women in this country whose rapes and deaths are a footnote in the left-hand column of the newspaper," the author Nilanjana Roy wrote. "Let there be an end to this epidemic of violence, this culture where if we can't kill off our girls before they are born, we ensure that they live these lives of constant fear."

Fresh questions were being raised Saturday about the decision to send the critically injured victim to Singapore for follow-up treatment on Wednesday, with some suggesting political motivations behind the move. She had had three abdominal surgeries in Delhi, and suffered cardiac arrest before she was transferred. Her lungs and abdomen were infected and she had a "significant brain injury" when she arrived, according to the Singapore hospital where she was being treated.

Rahul Kanwal, a television anchor and managing editor of Headlines Today, tweeted: "Several doctors called to say moving critically ill survivor to Singapore dictated by politics not medicine. 'Hoping problem would fly away'"

And the novelist Taslima Nasreen asked a similar question:  "Was she sent to Singapore to die in a distant place? But ppl don't need to carry her dead body in procession, they have her story."
© 2012, The New York Times News Service
Story First Published: December 30, 2012 00:02 IST

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