Demands for the execution of the men who gang-raped a young Indian woman (who subsequently died) are growing in the country, reflecting how this brutal episode has galvanized a mass movement to change India’s attitude toward women.
The rape victim’s family has now joined the chorus of voices seeking the ultimate punishment for the rapists, as police investigators prepare to file formal charges against the six accused – charges that will now also include murder.
"The fight has just begun. We want all the accused hanged and we will fight for that, till the end," the victim’s brother told The Indian Express newspaper.
Protests related to the rape continued on Monday, one day after the young woman was cremated in a private funeral ceremony. She died from her injuries in a hospital in Singapore on Saturday morning, less than two weeks after she was brutally assaulted by at least six men in a private bus in Delhi.
The victim’s father, who was at his daughter’s bedside in Singapore, told the Express: "My wife had hardly eaten in the last two weeks. She was exhausted. ... I think she was not ready to face the shock of our daughter's death, despite doctors always telling us that she was serious. She cried intermittently all of Saturday, but it got worse on the flight back home."
He added: "It is too painful. I have not gone inside her [my daughter’s] room. She was born in this house. Her books, clothes, they are all here.”
The Delhi government, already the target of enormous criticism from the public over the handling of the rape and the general lack of safety for women in the city, has sought to calm the tense atmosphere by offering 1.5 million Rupees (about $27,000) to the victim’s family and also said they will provide one of her relatives with a job.
Press Trust of India reported that Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit proposed the compensation to the family during a cabinet meeting.
"Keeping in view the extremely exceptional circumstances and barbaric nature of the crime, the cabinet decided to sanction an amount of [1.5-million Rupees] to the surviving members of the victim," Dikshit said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the ruling Congress Party is reportedly preparing a package of tougher sentence guidelines for those who commit sexual assault and rape, including possibly the chemical castration of convicted offenders.
Pending an autopsy report from doctors in Singapore and the input of forensic experts, Delhi police are expected to release the official charges against the accused in court on Thursday.
"It is up to the court to decide when the trial would begin," said police spokesman Rajan Bhagat, according to Agence France-Presse.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered a retired judge named J.S. Verma to lead a panel to review and possibly amend India’s sex crime laws, which presently call for lengthy prison sentences.
Despite the enormous publicity this gang rape has generated, even if a death sentence is handed down on the perpetrators, India has only executed one person in the last eight years – and that was Pakistani Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the surviving gunman of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai who was partly responsible for the deaths of almost 170 people.
Rape on the other hand is extremely commonplace in India.
Separately, the Congress Party has reportedly rejected a demand by the leading opposition group, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that parliament hold a special session to discuss the gang-rape case. The BJP is also advocating the death penalty for rapists.
"Even if they [Congress] don't call a special session, the Budget session should be used for amending all laws for protecting women," BJP leader in the parliament Sushma Swaraj said, according to Indian media.
"Whether it is in the special session, or budget session, some days should be dedicated completely so that laws related to crime against women are made stringent.”
Congress accused opponents of seeking to make political gain from the tragic rape-murder.
"This issue is not an issue that should be politicized. The BJP is trying to politicize the issue,” Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi told Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).
"They are demanding a special session of Parliament. This is no secret that when Parliament is in session, they never allow Parliament to function and when Parliament is not in session, they are demanding it. It is very strange."
Imposing the death penalty would also not go over very well with some global human rights organizations.
“For politicians, supporting the death penalty is an easy but ineffectual way out,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director, Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “It is much harder, but more effective, to revamp the response of police, doctors, forensic specialists, prosecutors and judges to sexual violence. Survivors deserve an effective, coordinated response to sexual assault.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.