India on Edge
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|Anjana Pasricha||December 24th 2012|
India's Prime Minister has appealed for calm following days of violent protests over the gang rape of a young woman in the Indian capital.
In a televised address Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he shared people’s genuine anger and anguish. However, he said violence will serve no purpose. Singh was referring to clashes that took place between protestors and police in the Indian capital Saturday and Sunday.
“I appeal to all concerned citizens to maintain peace and calm. I assure you that we will make all possible efforts to ensure safety and security of women in this country," he promised, "we will examine without delay not only responses to this terrible crime, but all aspects concerning safety of women and children and punishment to those who commit these monstrous crimes.”
The nearly hour-long rape and beating with iron rods of the 23-year-old female student by a group of men in a moving bus last week has sparked outrage against authorities and police in a city already considered the most unsafe for women. The victim remains hospitalized in critical condition. The protestors - mostly students and ordinary people - want speedy justice handed out to the six men who have been arrested in connection with the gang rape. There have been calls for the death penalty. People want better security for women. They are angry that nearly one third of the city's police force is deployed for duty for ministers and senior government officials, reducing those available for actually policing the city.
The protests were smaller and sporadic on Monday, as the police turned the city into a virtual fortress to prevent violent demonstrations during a day-long visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Several metro stations were shut down to prevent people from reaching the heart of the capital - where the earlier protests sparked pitched battles with police, who used tear gas, sticks and water cannons to disperse the crowds. More than 60 protesters and policemen were injured.
Authorities have promised better policing, with more night patrols. They have also promised to fast-track the trial of those arrested for gang rape in a country where a slow-moving justice system means that trials often drag on for years.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the government will consider handing out stiffer penalties for crimes against women. “It has been decided to constitute a committee to look into possible amendments so as to provide for speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault,” Shinde announced. But public anger is still running high and authorities will have to do more to assuage a city where, according to police figures, a rape is reported on an average every 18 hours.