India scaled back celebrations to mark the new year as it mourned the death of a 23-year-old woman whose gang rape triggered public outrage.
Army units were asked not to hold parties, the Press Trust of India reported, while the president of the ruling Congress, Sonia Gandhi, decided there will be no official party celebration this year. The governments of Punjab and Haryana provinces canceled programs to mark the beginning of 2013.
The body of the physiotherapy student, who was beaten and raped in the back of a moving bus in New Delhi on Dec. 16, was cremated Dec. 30 at a private ceremony amid tight security. The woman, whose name can’t be revealed under Indian laws, was flown to Singapore for specialist treatment, paid for by the Indian government.
Her death generated new protests in the Indian capital, where the brutality of the attack has led to days of soul searching and increased pressure on the government and police to crack down on sex crimes.
In New Delhi, hundreds of demonstrators yesterday gathered at Jantar Mantar, an 18th-century observatory and traditional rallying point, to demand speedy punishment for the alleged rapists and tougher laws. Some called for those responsible to be given the death penalty, while others offered prayers and called for society to change the way it treats women.
“Before coming here, my parents told me to get home before evening. That’s the kind of fear we all have,” said Surabhi Suri, 20, a student at the protest venue. “It’s the right time to take the movement forward, to make our nation safer for women,” she said. Suri held aloft a placard with the message “I am at fault, I elected such worthless leaders.”
While Delhi police did not impose restrictions on year-end revelers beyond the usual security steps, they deployed additional personnel, spokesman Rajan Bhagat said. An order preventing the gathering of large groups of people in central parts of the capital remained in force, he said.
“To show solidarity with the feelings of the nation” the Delhi Gymkhana Club, one of the city’s leading private clubs, scrapped its New Year’s Eve celebration, its secretary O.P. Malhotra said. Members had been asked to light candles instead.
Police have brought murder charges against six men accused of raping and assaulting the woman. The trial will start after police file charge documents on Jan. 3, Bhagat said Dec. 30.
“We have already seen the emotions and energies this incident has generated,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in an e-mailed statement Dec. 29. It’s up to all Indians to “ensure that her death will not have been in vain.”
Singh has appointed a retired Delhi High Court judge to investigate the crime and suggest ways to fix lapses in policing. He also pledged to consider tougher penalties for sex crimes after the assault prompted demonstrations organized through social media. The protesters, who fought water cannons and tear gas on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, demanded more be done to protect women in the capital and across India.
After tricking the woman and her 28-year-old male friend into boarding the unauthorized chartered bus with tinted windows and heavy curtains, the crew of the vehicle and accomplices assaulted the two over a period of about 45 minutes, stripped them and then threw them out.
Data provided by India’s National Crime Records Bureau show about 24,200 cases of rape and 228,650 cases of crimes against women were reported in 2011. United Nations figures show 1.8 cases of rape for every 100,000 people in India, compared with 63 in Sweden, 29 in the U.K. and 27 in the U.S. Most instances of rape go unreported in India.
Singh has vowed to hasten prosecution of the accused and a panel led by the former chief justice of India has been asked to rewrite criminal codes to allow harsher penalties to be imposed, including capital punishment in the “rarest of rare” rape cases.
It typically takes years for ordinary Indians to get justice because of a slow-moving legal process and overburdened courts. Long-running trials and lax enforcement of laws have also fueled protests in the nation’s capital. About 63,342 cases were pending in the Supreme Court as of July 31, of which 67 percent have been on the roll for more than a year, government data show.
Before the November execution of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani gunman involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, India last carried out the death penalty in 2004, when a convict was hanged 14 years after he raped and murdered a school girl.
India has about 15 judges for each million of its 1.2 billion people, according to UN data. In China, there are about 159 judges for each million people, while in the U.S. the figure is about 108.