India calls for death penalty for those accused of brutal gang rape of medical student who later died

“There are 400 people protesting and lighting candles. In the new year, we want a revolution”

New Delhi

Relatives of the victim of a brutal gang rape in India have called for death penalty for the accused rapists.

“We want all the accused to be hanged, and we will fight for that until the end,” said the brother of the woman, who died from her injuries.

His call was echoed by protesters pressuring the Government to amend Indian law to permit the death penalty in cases of extreme sexual violence.

Five of the six men accused of raping the 23-year-old woman in the back of a bus on the night of 16 December are expected to be formally charged with murder on Thursday, according to the Press Trust of India. The sixth accused is a minor, and is not expected to be tried as an adult. The victim, who had been flown to Singapore for specialist treatment before she died, remains anonymous in accordance with India’s laws.

The victim’s father told The Indian Express the family was struggling to cope with their loss. “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.

“Her books, clothes, they are all here,” the victim’s father said from the family home. “It is hard to believe I will never hear her voice again. She will never read books to me in English again.” Friends of the victim told reporters the woman had been engaged to the man who was with her when the attack took place, and planned to marry in February.

A gathering of demonstrators braved the cold winter chill yesterday to ring in the New Year at Jantar Mantar, which is now the main site of the anti-rape protests, after police cordoned off India Gate. One of them was Sarita Singh, a 26-year-old social worker from Delhi.

“There are 300 to 400 people here, sitting in groups, lighting candles. One group is singing songs,” Singh told The Independent. “At midnight, I plan on joining a team that will light torches to signify that in the new year, we want a revolution.”

Businesses responded to the air of mourning in the city by cancelling or toning down their New Year celebrations. The prestigious Delhi Gymkhana Club, which counts many ministers and business leaders as members, replaced its celebrations with a candlelight vigil.

The Indian Armed Forces cancelled their planned New Year’s Eve celebrations, as did the head of the ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi.

New Delhi exploded in rage as details of the rape attack spread through the Indian press last week. Protesters clashed with police, who used batons and water cannons to disperse the crowds gathering at India Gate and the president’s residence in central New Delhi. But since the victim’s death, protests have largely taken on a more sombre note. Candles replaced brickbats, and silent demonstrations took the place of sloganeering. The crowds have contracted in size, partly due to road closures around the centre of the city and the shuttering of metro stations near the protest sites.

Yesterday, some protesters camped out in front of the Bristol Hotel in Gurgaon in the neighbouring state of Haryana, where the artist Yo Yo Honey Singh, a UK rapper of Indian origin, had been booked to perform. But the performance was cancelled at the last minute since his lyrics, which seem to glorify sexual harassment and even rape, have come under criticism over recent days.

Others used the celebratory atmosphere of the New Year’s Eve to send a message. Nirantar, a Delhi-based women’s rights organisation, held a “Take Back the Night” street party. The flier for the party, which circulated on social media, called for attendees to come “dented and painted”. The phrase was a reference to a statement made by the president’s son and Member of Parliament, Abhijit Mukherjee, who described the protesters as such in an apparent attempt to discredit them. Mr Mukherjee has since apologised for his remark.

“In India, on New Year’s Eve, it is mostly men on the street,” said Purnima, who organised the event. Like many in India, Purnima goes by only one name. “Women are generally afraid of New Year’s Eve, afraid of drunk men. We thought it was the time to change that.”

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