Indian gov’t promises inquiry after protests against gang rape grow
Published Saturday, December 22, 2012 7:28AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, December 22, 2012 11:40PM EST
After days of protests over the gang-rape and beating of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus, India’s government is promising an inquiry into the crime that has stunned many around the world.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters Saturday his government will hold an official inquiry that will look into the attack and what measures are needed to improve the safety and security of women in India. The government has also promised to fast track the case.
The government also said all permits for the operator of the bus involved in the attack have been cancelled. The bus driver is one of the men accused of taking a turn in raping the woman.
Shinde also announced that GPS units will be installed in government buses to prevent them from leaving their routes. Also, New Delhi bus drivers will be required to display their identification in the buses and remove all window tinting.
He promised more effective punishments for exceptionally disturbing crimes, even while protesters demanded the six men arrested face the death penalty.
“To ensure a strong law to deal with crimes of this nature, (the) government will take immediate steps for the amendment of the Criminal Law for enhanced and more effective punishment in the rarest of the rare cases of sexual assault such as this,” he said in a statement.
Shinde met with a group of student protestors and pleaded with them to end their demonstrations.
The six are accused of gang-raping the woman last Sunday night and beating her male friend with iron rods as the bus they were in travelled through the city for hours, even passing through police checkpoints. Finally the men stopped and dumped the naked pair on the side of a road.
The woman has undergone several surgeries for head and internal injuries and remains in a New Delhi government hospital, where doctors say she is still fighting for her life.
Earlier Saturday, thousands of young Indians marched on the presidential mansion, protesting government inaction.
Police used tear gas, batons and water cannons to push back the protesters when they repeatedly tried to break through barricades inside a security zone near government buildings. Several injuries were reported.
The demonstrators raised posters reading, "Save women. Save India" and "Hang the rapists."
Others held signs reading, "Don't teach your daughters what to wear, teach your sons how to behave,” demanding changes to a culture that historically turns a blind eye to the harassment of women.
The violence followed days of similar protests across the country, prompting high-ranking Indian officials to speak out.
“I’m ashamed. I personally feel ashamed that I’m sitting in this house and I’m helpless and I’m not able to do anything,” MP Jaya Bachchan said in parliament.
On Saturday, junior minister C.P.N. Singh pleaded with the protesters to remain peaceful and avoid vandalizing government property.
"The government is hearing you and taking steps necessary to ensure the safety of women," Singh said.
Women in India have long said they do not feel safe on city streets and are helpless to do anything about the constant groping, harassment and violence they experience.
Sakhi, a women's resource centre in the Kerala area, recently surveyed women's perceptions of safety in public spaces in four cities. The overwhelming majority of women said sexual harassment was their main safety concern.
Several students described the harassment they face every day.
“When I look around (it) is just lecherous eyes following me everywhere,” said student Sanjita Joshi.
“They’ll literally rape you with their eyes,” said student Shweta Prakash.
Political gridlock between the government and the opposition has long-delayed the passage of the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill, and an amendment to the Marriage Act that would give women more property rights.
Government crime statistics back up protesters complaints that New Delhi is India’s most unsafe place for women.
More rapes were reported in New Delhi (572) than from the five next largest cities combined, according to 2011 reports.
In a survey of all crimes against women in 53 cities across India, New Dehli accounted for 13.3% (4,489) of the total such crimes.
There are roughly 40,000 pending rape cases in India.
With files from The Associated Press and CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian