Protesters pledged their commitment to fight for stronger laws against rape

It was a day when the defining emotion among protesters here was one of sadness and grief, while mourning the young woman who remained anonymous but emerged as the symbol of all kinds of violence against women.

Terming the gang-rape victim a martyr, the crowd representing every section of society at Jantar Mantar on Saturday pledged its commitment to fight for stronger laws against sexual assault on women and justice for the 23-year-old physiotherapy student who died early in the morning in a Singapore hospital due to multi-organ failure.

Hours after news of the death spread, people started gathering at Jantar Mantar. Initially the protest remained sombre and silent with several people tying black bands around their mouths. But as the day progressed, the sense of grief gave way to anger and frustration. While some expressed their anger against the political dispensation, others argued that society was also responsible for the death of the young woman.

“I have never felt so helpless but at the same time there is a destructive anger simmering in me. I am not angry about what's happening. I am angry about what's not happening,” said Jharna Bhatnagar, a management professional.

“We don’t want this to get repeated and for that strong deterrents must be put in place. We demand effective implementation of the present laws.” Simultaneously, there is an urgent need for reforms including in the police and the judiciary, said Ms. Bhatnagar, who staged a silent protest at Jantar Mantar and later led a candlelight vigil in North Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar.

Disagreeing with the popular anger against only the political class and the government, Muddassir Quamar, a doctoral candidate of International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, argued: “It was not only the monumental apathy of the law and order agencies which killed her. I think we also need to take responsibility. As a society which doesn’t care in general, we should also be ashamed for our contribution in not only her death but every case of violence against women.”

Lakshmi, another researcher working on women’s issues, said: “She didn’t die of multi-organ failure, but it was the multi-organ failure of this society and the State which killed her.”

Manish Kumar, an architect by training, agreed with the failure of society to prevent incidents of rape. “Every time I am reminded of the fact that this girl till her last breath, fought and expressed her desire to live, I hang my head in shame.” I feel guilty for the fact that I failed this girl. But what makes me hopeful is that a large number of protesters here are men.”

The protest also turned a platform for discussion, with several participants wanting to take forward the movement to oppose violence against women.

Aam Aadmi Party leader and political scientist Yogendra Yadav spoke to a crowd of youngsters on ways to take the campaign ahead. Appealing to them to invest their energy in getting united under the leadership of women, he asked them to come up with an agenda. After his call, a few women volunteered to get united and pursue the cause.

Mr. Yadav suggested that everybody take a New Year resolution to make 2013 a year without any case of violence against women. “We need to implement it first on ourselves that we will raise our voice in every case of violence or assault we witness. We also need to pressurise wherever we work for the constitution of committee on gender sensitisation and sexual harassment as per the provisions of the Supreme Court’s Vishakha guidelines. Just shouting slogans against the Prime Minister is very easy, but raising your voice is difficult,” he said underscoring the need for creating an atmosphere for women to approach police to register their complaint.

  • The sense of grief gave way to anger and frustration later

  • Protesters sought to take the movement to oppose violence against women forward