Protests grow over death of gang-raped Indian student
Ban Ki-Moon urges India to protect women as failure to stem sexual violence is laid bare
THOUSANDS of Indians have cancelled New Year celebrations to mourn the 23-year-old medical student who died after being gang raped on a bus in Delhi. During the brutal attack, her assailants inserted an iron rod inside her, causing fatal organ damage.
The incident has sparked widespread protests across India at the authorities’ apparent lack of concern at the high incidence of rape. Now UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon has urged the Indian government to take urgent action, saying every girl and woman has the right to be "respected, valued and protected".
The Guardian says Ban’s intervention takes the "fallout" from the incident to "a new level". It also underlines the damage done to India’s international reputation, already battered by corruption scandals and a huge power failure earlier this year.
Five men and a 17-year-old have been charged with rape and murder over the 16 December attack on the as yet unnamed student whose body was cremated in Delhi at the weekend. The men, but not the teenager, could face the death penalty if convicted and the student’s brother says her family want "all the accused hanged".
The young woman’s death has focused anger across the sub-continent over the failure of Indian authorities to protect women and prosecute those who abuse them.
The BBC says figures published yesterday reveal that there has been just one conviction for rape in Delhi this year despite 635 reported cases and 745 arrests. The Indian government has said it will introduce fast-track courts to speed up the legal process.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was "very saddened" by the student’s death, describing widespread public anger as "perfectly understandable". But The Times points out that the stringent security measures that have greeted public protests - including the deployment of thousands of armed riot police on barricades in Delhi - are seen as further evidence of "a ruling elite increasingly out of touch with the popular mood".
Leading the calls for the government to protect women, the actor Shah Rukh Khan - known as the 'King of Bollywood' - said: “I am so sorry that I am a part of this society and culture. I am so sorry that I am a man. I promise I will fight with your voice."
The Guardian quotes a Delhi-based analyst Swapan Dasgupta who says the incident is a "huge challenge" for India's leaders who had written off the student's death as "a law and order problem", refusing to enter a wider debate about the treatment of women.
"But that style of top-down politics is not going to work any more, particularly with young, aspirational urban people," says Dasgupta.
Writing in the India Times, Sonal Bhadoria sums up the mood by saying the student’s life was "snatched away from her. How many more? India has to answer this time," says Bhadoria.