People from all the major cities in Maharashtra on Saturday took to the streets in memory of the gang rape victim in Delhi who died on Saturday morning.

Actor and former MP Shabana Azmi led a protest march in Bandra on Saturday which saw the presence of a number of film and theatre personalities such as Javed Akhtar, Hema Malini, Ranvir Singh, Alka Yagnik and Mandira Bedi.

Actor and Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan could not control her emotions while apologising to the girl’s family. “I feel scared when I think about girls in my family. We have woken up very late. We should not only apologise to the girl, but also decide that we will not let this happen again,” she said, weeping.

Ms. Azmi gave a call to unite against crimes against women. “The girl’s sacrifice has united us. The only justice for her will be not to forget the incident and remain united against such crimes,” she said.

“There needs to be a change in the mentality of our society. It is not the woman who should be ashamed, the man who has committed the crime should be ashamed… Because he is guilty and not that woman,” said lyricist Prasoon Joshi.

Mumbai witnesses a number of protest marches in different parts of the city, arranged by a number of NGOs, organisations and individuals. People from all walks of life participated in a silent march, pledging to fight against crimes against women.

“It is high time we started speaking about violence against women. We have kept quite for so long and it is time to say enough is enough. We are not asking for a revolution, but we are asking for safe places for women,” said Sakina Bohra of Nari Atyachar Virodhi Manch, who participated in the silent protest march held at Shivaji Park.

Kruti Trivedi, a teacher at an international school said it is time to elect the right politicians. “We have been electing wrong representatives and it is time to take matters into our own hands. There is a need to bring about change in the social system to avoid incidents like the one in Delhi,” she said.

Asked whether the death penalty is an answer to curb rape, the activists unanimously replied in the negative. “Death penalty can never be the answer. The harsher the punishment, the lower will be the conviction rate in these cases. As it is, we have an extremely low conviction rate in rape cases in India. Introducing death penalty will bring that further down,” said Chayanika Shaha of the Forum against Oppression of Women.

Another protest march, organised by the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the Democratic Youth Federation of India and the Students Federation of India in Dadar, also witnessed a large turnout.

Similar protest rallies were organised in Pune and Solapur demanding justice for the victim.

Politicians have also expressed grief at the woman’s death and appealed to the people to remain calm and not to disturb law and order.

“At a time when education is reaching all sections, the increase in such inhuman acts is alarming. There is a need to include harsh punishments in the law against such crimes,” said Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. He emphasised the need for fast track courts and higher conviction rate in crimes against women. He will be requesting the Bombay High Court to allocate 25 fast track courts exclusively to bring fast results in cases of crime against women.

Push to legal and procedural changes

Supriya Sule, a Nationalist Congress Party MP and daughter of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, sought a push to legal and procedural changes for women’s safety. “This is the time for us to take up the issue of women’s and young girls’ safety everywhere, at public places, private spaces and even in our homes. The government, police and administrations at all levels need to be alert on this issue. We should check all our further actions and even check our past decisions with respect to the safety of the women,” she said.

Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil also expressed grief. “While expressing my deepest condolences with the victim, I promise to take all measures to enhance the safety and security of women, making the State a better and safer place to live in,” he said.