India Promises Tougher Rape Laws in Wake of Protests
Police set up checkpoints in central New Delhi and shut several metro stations after two days of violent clashes with protesters angered by the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student on a city bus.
Authorities strengthened security and diverted traffic around India Gate, the venue of the demonstrations, causing snarls and delays for office goers. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for peace and calm in a statement today, assuring “all possible efforts to ensure security and safety to all women” in the country. All six men accused of raping and torturing the woman over a period of about 45 minutes on Dec. 16 have been arrested, police said.
The government’s pledge to enforce stronger punishment, including possibly the death penalty, failed to assuage the concerns of protesters over the weekend who chanted for justice and demanded swifter trials and tougher laws. Televised images showed police lobbing tear-gas shells and using water cannons to disperse crowds in the capital’s high-security zone on Dec. 22 and yesterday. About 65 protesters and 78 police personnel were injured, the Times of India reported.
“Anger at this crime is justified, but violence will serve no purpose,” Singh said today. “I appeal to all sections of society to maintain peace. I feel deeply sad at the turn of events.”
‘Rarest of Rare’
The violent clashes and enhanced security prompted the government to move the official venue of negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and a business delegation to Singh’s residence. Putin is visiting India for a day to sign some agreements.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said at a briefing on Dec. 22 that he needs to consult with the Law Ministry to change the criminal code to include capital punishment for the “rarest of rare” rape cases. The leader of the opposition in the lower house of parliament, Sushma Swaraj, called for a special session to discuss violence against women.
More protests are planned or already taking place in the western Indian cities of Mumbai and Pune, and Bangalore and Chennai in the south, with youth coordinating gatherings through Facebook Inc.’s social networking site and messaging services like Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry Messenger.
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. Still, figures given by the United Nations show 1.8 cases of rape for every 100,000 in India, compared with 63 in Sweden, 29 in the U.K. and 27 in the U.S. Most cases go unreported in India.
Separately, a journalist covering violent clashes in the northeastern state of Manipur died as police opened fire to disperse a crowd protesting the molestation of an actress.