New Delhi: Protests across the country continue a day after the 23-year-old medical student who was gang-raped in a moving bus, was cremated in Delhi. "Lest we forget" is the battle cry as thousands of students and others continue to gather at protest venues to demand speedy justice for the young woman, more stringent anti-rape laws and better security for women.
On the last day of the year today, demonstrators plan to hold a protest march in Connaught Place, the heart of Delhi. But the city police has closed Central Park, where the protesters planned to gather. They have so far been meeting every day at Jantar Mantar to record their protest, which has largely been silent and mournful ever since the young woman died two days ago.
In an isolated incident yesterday, a group of around 50 people tried to break down barricades set up by police. A protester later alleged that some political elements were trying to infiltrate and hijack the peaceful movement. Five people have been detained by the police. There have also been some allegations of men misbehaving with women protestors.
At Jantar Mantar, two protesters are on hungerstrike demanding the death sentence in rape cases; one of them has been fasting for eight days, one for three. They want the death sentence in rape cases and more judges to try such cases in fast track courts to ensure speedy justice. Through the weekend, people poured out of their homes mourning the medical student, holding candlelight vigils and vowing to keep their movement alive.
The young woman died in a Singapore hospital early on Saturday morning. She was gang-raped and tortured by six men in a moving bus in south Delhi on the night of December 16, and fought grittily to survive for 13 days. Her body was flown back to India on Sunday morning. The Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi received the body at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The student was cremated a few hours later, amid huge security; over 2000 policemen were deployed near her home.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a rare televised statement on Saturday promised that the student's death would not be in vain and that the government her party leads would ensure justice and better security for women. She also assured protesters that the government had heard their voice. But both the Centre and the Delhi government have been severely criticised for their handling of the massive protests. The protesters say the government's attempt at engagement has been very inadequate.
Demonstrations had turned violent last weekend when the police tried to stop protesters from marching towards Rashtrapati Bhavan. A constable of the Delhi Police, Subhash Tomar, died two days after he collapsed during the clashes between the police and protesters near India Gate. Since then, most of Central Delhi has been sealed off by the Delhi Police, in a bid to stop protesters from going to India Gate or to North and South Blocks. Metro stations have also been shut at different periods of time; three stations - Rajiv Chowk, Patel Chowk and Barakhamaba Road - will be closed at 7:30 pm tonight. Police say this is to prevent trouble on New Year's eve.
The horrific incident has also found resonance among the many Indians living abroad. From a small temple in London, many members from the expatriate community delivered a big message to the Indian government and offered their condolences, prayers and an offer for help that they can give to the family of the girl.