NEW DELHI: They may never know her name, but the protesters were determined that the gang-rape victim would serve as a “tipping point” in the battle to end a culture of violence against women in India.
“The rape of this girl and the trauma she experienced is not new and this has happened in the past,” said Anjali Raval, a housewife who took part in a rally in the centre of the Indian capital on Saturday.
“But this case has acted like a pressure cooker blast effect,” added the 35-year-old. “It is high time we woke up and fought for women's safety.” While police turned much of downtown Delhi into a no-go area on Saturday in the aftermath of the young student's death in Singapore, authorities did allow a small protest to take place in Jantar Mantar, a traditional rallying point.
Women and men took part in the show of solidarity for the unnamed woman whose ordeal on a bus at the hands of a gang of rapists two weekends ago triggered an outpouring of pent-up anger and despair.
New Delhi has been dubbed the “rape capital” of India, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures.
Gang-rapes are so frequent that they are barely mentioned in the newspapers while victims are often deterred from reporting attacks for fear of shaming their families or that they will receive the brush-off from police.
But Bela Rana, a Delhi-based lawyer, said that the wave of protests that followed the assault on December 16 represented a sea change and that women were no longer prepared to suffer in silence.
“Yes we are aware that this is not the first case, nor will it be the last case of gang-rape in India, but it is clear that we will not tolerate sex crimes anymore,” said Rana.
Although the victim has not been named, she is known to have been a medical student who had spent the evening watching The Life of Pi at a mall in southern Delhi before she was picked up by the six rapists who would later kill her.
In a blog widely circulated on social media on Saturday, the author Nilanjana Roy said the tragedy had touched so many people as she was “one just like us”.
“The one whose battered body stood for all the anonymous women in this country whose rapes and deaths are a footnote in the left-hand column of the newspaper,” she wrote.
“Sometimes, an atrocity bites so deep that we have no armour against it, and that was what happened with the 23-year-old medical student, the one who left a cinema hall and boarded the wrong bus, whose intestines were so badly damaged that the injuries listed on the FIR (medical) report made hardened doctors, and then the capital city, cry for her pain.” Aakar Kamath, a college professor who was among the men at the protest, said it was high time a deep-rooted hatred of women had to be eradicated.
“Yes, the woman has died but her story will always be remembered as many Indians are now willing to fight against misogyny,” he said.
Kamath added her death should not be treated as the end of a chapter but rather as a “tipping point” in the struggle to ensure that women can exercise their “right to live without fear”.
Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and female infanticide have rarely entered mainstream political discourse but the deadly attack has put gender issues centre stage in Indian politics.
“Better late than never,” said Rana.—AFP