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India Marks Somber New Year's Eve After Rape Victim's Death

  • VOA News

Students hold candles as they pray during a candlelight vigil for a gang rape victim, who was assaulted in New Delhi and later died, in Ahmedabad, India, December 31, 2012.

Students hold candles as they pray during a candlelight vigil for a gang rape victim, who was assaulted in New Delhi and later died, in Ahmedabad, India, December 31, 2012.

Many across India canceled festive New Year's Eve celebrations Monday out of respect for the young woman who died days earlier from injuries suffered during a brutal gang rape.

The unidentified victim, a 23-year-old student, died Saturday from severe internal injuries that her assailants caused with a metal rod during the attack on a bus two weeks ago. Six men have been arrested and charged with murder in the December 16 attack in New Delhi. They could face the death penalty if convicted.

Reflecting the country's somber mood, hotels, clubs, India's military and even the head of the ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, called off their parties to greet the new year. Many have joined candlelight vigils in the capital and other major cities. Others have chosen to protest peacefully, in contrast to the violent demonstrations that erupted in New Delhi a week ago.

Debate sparked

The woman's death has set off a debate about what India needs to do to protect women. Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and female infanticide rarely enter mainstream political discourse in India.

Protesters and politicians have called for tougher rape laws, major police reforms and a transformation in the way the nation treats women.

BJP, the main opposition party, has called for a special session of parliament to discuss the issues and to amend legislation.

However, BJP lawmaker Banwari Lal Singhal has called for a ban on skirts as part of school uniforms. He said he wants the girls to wear pants because a new dress code would keep girls "away from the lustful gazes of men."

Mamata Sharma, the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, slammed the legislator for his remarks, saying instead of changing the dress code of the girls, he should ask men to change their attitudes and treat both sexes equally.

Action demanded

Human Rights Watch said the gang rape "should spur decisive action" by the Indian government.

Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW's South Asia director, said the Indian government needs to act immediately to prevent sexual assault and ensure the dignified treatment of survivors.

The outcry over the attack caught the Indian government off guard. It took a week for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to make a statement on the case, infuriating many protesters.

The woman is reported to have accepted a ride with a male companion on a charter bus in New Delhi where the six men on board beat them both with an iron rod. The woman was raped repeatedly. Reports say the rod was used in the rape. The woman and her friend were then thrown from the moving vehicle. The male friend survived the attack.

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