An Angry India Wants Justice For Rape Victim

As demonstrations continued through the weekend over the death of a young woman who was allegedly gang raped in New Delhi this month by six men in a moving bus, the police said the accused are expected to be formally charged this week with murder.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

In India, the body of the young victim of a gang rape in New Delhi two weeks ago was flown back to the capital from Singapore early today and cremated within hours. The 23-year-old student, whose identify has not been disclosed by authorities, had been airlifted for treatment to Singapore where she succumbed to organ failure Saturday. Her death triggered national mourning and declarations to resolve that her ordeal not be in vain.

A warning: some listeners may find parts of this story disturbing.

From New Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: In the span of two weeks, India has gone from shock to shame to grief over the horrific gang rape of the young woman. Angry demonstrations that swept the center of Delhi one week ago gave way to peaceful reflection last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

MCCARTHY: Spontaneously they poured into Jantar Mantar, a park near India Gate. Nervous authorities had sealed the monument, anticipating an aggressive outpouring following the death of the young woman India now calls its daughter. The assembled sang the Hindi version of "We Shall Overcome." They sat on the road shielding candles from the chilling wind. Young men laid motionless, black tape over their mouths. Young women quietly exchanged accounts of their own brushes with sexual violence.

A cross section of Delhi came out. Shopkeepers, retired army officers, teachers, artists and students, all seeking a safer country for India's women, who were victims of a quarter million cases of violence last year.

Thirty-two year old Shilpi Tewari says her young daughter inspired her to join.

SHILPI TEWARI: She's three years old. And when I was moving out of the house, she asked me where are you going, Mama. I said I'm going to the office. For some reason she said: Be careful, Mama. So I just looked at her and I thought I want this situation to come where I don't have to say that to her- you have to be careful when you go out. I have lived all that. I think most of us have been lucky not to be in the situation that this girl was in. I think it is sheer luck.

MCCARTHY: Twenty-nine year old Aditi Sheoran shakes her head in agreement.

ADITI SHEORAN: You see all the women out here or even the men, they are sensitive to the fact that at least 95 to 99 percent of us have faced some sort of sexual harassment. I'm telling you we would have in some way or the other. So we might be a free country but women are not free. You know? I'm carrying a pepper spray with me currently, and I do that all the time. I won't feel safe without a pepper spray when out alone.

MCCARTHY: And Aditi says the victim is often blamed for the crime.

SHEORAN: The whole mindset here is don't get raped as we are trained. Rather than don't rape, it's about don't get raped. It's your fault.

MCCARTHY: The Hindustan Times reports today that as the nation fixed on the case of the young woman who died, 20 more cases of rape, including children, have been reported in New Delhi the past two weeks.

Sonia Gandhi, India's most powerful politician, received the body of the young woman as it arrived aboard a special Air India aircraft this morning. Gandhi has largely been silent during the two week ordeal that has shaken the status quo. In a brief televised statement, she told the nation: As a woman and mother, I understand how you feel.

SONIA GANDHI: Today, all Indians grieve, as though they have lost their own beloved daughter, their cherished sister. Today, we pledge that she will get justice; that her fight will not have been in vain.

MCCARTHY: Nineteen year old B. Sudharsan says he's angry at the slowness of justice in India and the fact that the vast majority of rape cases never end in conviction. Like many, he wants the six men accused in the heinous case put to death. Police say the men brutally beat, raped and threw the young woman from a bus.

B. SUDHARSAN: We are looking for better politicians here. Let them come forward, hang them. Hang them in India Gate in front of all the people. Let them come out. Let them show their faces to all us. That is what we want.

MCCARTHY: The Hindu newspaper observed today, that even if the six are hanged, the pathology we are dealing with will not be so easily remedied.

Writer and activist Taslima Nasreen took offense to doctors' statement that the young woman had died peacefully. Millions of women, she said are harassed, abused, trafficked, burned and raped every day. Many women she said neither live peacefully nor die peacefully.

But pediatrician Shrinkhla Agrawal says there is a shift in attitude underway in India, evident in the younger generation who took to the streets to demand concrete action to ensure justice for sexual assault victims.

SHRINKHLA AGRAWAL: Rape, safety, inequality - all that stems from human rights. If we don't value people then, you know, we don't value their human rights. That's the shift that's needed. And I think it would happen.

MCCARTHY: Some are calling for a special session of Parliament to address the issue of sexual violence in Indian society.

This week, the six men who are in judicial custody for the rape and untimely death of the young woman, are to be formally charged with murder.

Julie McCarthy, NPR New, New Delhi.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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