NEW DELHI - Thousands of people gathered Sunday across India demanding justice for two young victims of rape and raising questions over why safety for children and women still eluded the nation despite tighter laws.
It was the biggest display of public anger in the country since the 2012 gang rape of a physiotherapy student in the Indian capital sparked nationwide protests.
Outrage flared this week after the brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from a Muslim nomad tribe in a Hindu dominated region of Indian Kashmir in January hit national headlines. The case came to attention after lawyers shouting Hindu nationalist slogans tried to block police from filing charges in court against eight accused men, all Hindus.
Among those who had protested their detention were two ministers of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the local Kashmir government.
The two ministers have since resigned after facing accusations of obstructing justice, the Supreme Court has demanded answers from the lawyers for their conduct and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to ensure justice for the accused.
But this has failed to quell the growing tide of anger in the country among ordinary men and women. Holding placards in cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata, they called for swift action to punish the culprits, speedier trials and harsher punishments for child rapists. "Hang the culprits," said many placards.
Among the protesters in New Delhi was 37-year-old professional, Aditi Sengupta. “I have reached a saturation point. I am done with the way the country has short changed the women.”
The case of a 16-year-old girl in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, who has accused a powerful BJP lawmaker in the state of raping her last June has also stirred anger. The lawmaker was only arrested on Friday, following widespread outrage over the victim's family’s allegations the local police had stonewalled their attempts to file a case against him. The family has also accused him of conspiring with his brother to beat up the girl’s father, who later died in police custody. The case only came to public attention after the young girl tried to kill herself in front of the Chief Minister’s office.
The case is now being investigated by federal police.
“The need for justice is obvious but what has been happening of late is that it takes too much outrage and so much protest for people to even sit up and say that yes, something is wrong,” actress Sameera Reddy, who joined the protestors in Mumbai told a television channel.
Political analysts say the two incidents could have a fallout for the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Modi, which faces national elections next year. In particular the protests by Hindu activists against the arrest of the men accused of raping the eight–year-old in Kashmir have deepened unease that the government is not doing enough to rein in Hindu fringe groups that have been emboldened under BJP rule.
“It also shows probably the challenge that is coming from the extreme right, fringe groups to this government,” says political analyst Neerja Chowdhury. “Maybe I feel it is a turning point.”