January 3, 2013 — Protesters in India have organized numerous demonstrations denouncing sexual violence and abuse against women in the country after a young woman was raped and beaten by a group of men on Dec. 16 on a moving bus, the New York Times reports (Timmons et al., New York Times, 12/29/12).
Sexual assaults are common in India, with a rape reported every 18 hours in New Delhi, but Ray Suarez of PBS' "NewsHour" notes that the "extreme brutality" of the attack on the woman "ignited outrage" across the nation (Suarez, "NewsHour," PBS, 12/28/12). The woman, who has not been identified, suffered severe internal injuries after being raped and beaten with a metal rod. She died on Dec. 29 of organ failure at a hospital in Singapore, where she had been transferred for treatment (Timmons et al., New York Times, 12/29/12).
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Protests began earlier last week, mostly led by female college students, and word of vigils and demonstrations quickly spread through social media. As the protest escalated and became violent, the police responded by turning fire hoses, teargas and nightsticks on the crowds (Yardley, New York Times, 12/29/12). After the woman died on Saturday morning, thousands of people, mostly men, protested again in New Delhi (Timmons et al., New York Times, 12/29/12).
Analysts say that India's coalition national government missed an opportunity to diffuse the situation by embracing protesters and offering reassurance. Instead, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not publicly address the incident until Dec. 24.
Protesters expressed outrage not only over the attack but over the government's lack of a strong response to the incident, which many said is indicative of rampant sexual violence and harassment of women in Indian society (Yardley, New York Times, 12/29/12).
Six men have been accused in the attack, and Singh pledged that the government will punish the attackers. The government also said it will consider changing the law to allow the death penalty in certain rape cases.
However, critics of the proposal said the government should focus on improving investigations and prosecutions, not harsher punishment (McCarthy, "Morning Edition," NPR, 12/28/12). Protesters also called for systematic reforms, noting that police and courts are frequently insensitive to women's complaints (Yardley, New York Times, 12/29/12).