The protests against the gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman, which has become the inception point for a new public demand for change in the way safety of women is perceived and approached by the authorities, has refused to die down.
The national Capital on Thursday saw a fresh set of peaceful but lengthy face-offs between the Delhi police and the protesters, who were demanding removal of the city Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, fast-track trials in rape cases and improved safety for women through better policing and stricter anti-rape laws.
While marching towards India Gate, hundreds of protesters asked the government to “commit or quit,” reflecting the nationwide public outrage against the increasing cases of sexual assault and violence against women across the country.
Amid tight security, the protesters, who included social activists, writers, students, men and women from across the city, gathered at the Nizamuddin roundabout and proceeded towards India Gate on Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg. But they were stopped over a hundred meters away from India Gate, where the propitiatory orders in force.
Rejecting the Prime Minister’s idea of providing safety to women being the Centre’s ‘priority,’ Annie Raja of the National Federation of Indian Woman argued: “We want the constitutional rights guaranteed to women of this country and not the ‘protection’ of the patriarchal and patronising political class.”
Pushing forward the agenda of swift and sure punishment in every crime against women, the protesters demanded that the government ensure justice in not only the recent case of gang-rape but over one lakh pending rape cases across the country.
Their charter of demands includes “announce and publicise gender-just protocols for the First Information Reports and the police investigation of crime against women. Punish the police personnel who violate the protocols and display gender bias or victim blaming.”
Demanding a special session of Parliament they said the government must show sincerity and enact robust, democratic and gender sensitive laws on crime against women after consultation with women’s organisations and student groups.
In specific they demanded immediate relief in terms of legal, medical, financial and psychological assistance and long-term rehabilitation measures to be provided to survivors of sexual assault. They also asked the government to review and audit the role of the National Commission for Women, which they argued has emerged as anti-women institution.
The speakers at the demonstration underscored that death penalty and castration were not the solution.
The protest also became a platform for debate on the issue of ensuring justice to different views regarding the issue. While rejecting the demands for increased policing as the key to safety of women, professor of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies Madhu Purnima Kishwar said: “Any scheme or plan which depends on the police is bound to fail. What we need is a vigilant citizenry.”
Highlighting the “complete ignorance” of issues related to sexual violence against north-eastern women in metros by the mainstream women’s groups, Binalakshmi Nepram of Manipur Women Gun Survivor’s Network said “its high time the cases of violence against women from north-east be included in the agenda of the civil society organizations”.
The women’s groups have decided to meet on Friday to chalk out the future strategy and the kinds of suggestions to be submitted before the Justice Verma Commission which has been asked to suggest possible amendments in the criminal laws to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing “sexual assault of extreme nature against women.”