Bowing to massive public protests over the gang rape of a 23-year-old paramedical student on December 16, the Central government today announced the setting up of a judicial commission to look into the incident and suggest measures for improving the safety of women. The government also indicated that the maximum penalty for rape could be enhanced to death.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde today said, “The government is extremely concerned about the gang-rape case. All the accused have been arrested. Sufficient evidence has been gathered. The chargesheet well be filed shortly. The government is requesting the courts for a speedy trial through fast-track courts.”
After a meeting with PM Manmohan Singh today, the home minister said the government would set up the inquiry panel under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952. The PM was briefed by the home minister on the medical condition of the victim and the series of protests in the capital. The PM has asked the home minister to ensure that there is sense of security among citizens in Delhi and also ensure that steps are taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.
“The government is monitoring the gang rape survivor’s health and will do everything to ensure her recovery. The govt is committed to ensure the safety of women in Delhi and across the country,” Shinde said.
The series of protests by students turned violent today after Delhi police used water cannons, tear gas shells and mild force to stop the agitators from entering the high-security area of Raisina Hill, where the President’s palace, North and South blocs are situated.
Opposition parties, led by Bharatiya Janata Party, have condemned the police action on the protesters. Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, demanded a special session of Parliament for amending the existing laws to provide death sentence to those committing heinous crimes against women.
Reacting to the Opposition’s demand, Shinde said, “I don’t think a special session of Parliament is needed to discuss stricter punishment in rape cases.”
Left parties have demanded that the PM should address the nation on the issue, saying if the PM could address the nation on the issue of allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail then he should also find time to speak on the issue related to crime against women.
Sushma Swaraj tweeted that the prime minister has agreed to look at the suggestion to call a special session of Parliament.
Yesterday, the Aam Aadmi Party of anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal had also called for a special session to pass a new law to ensure trial and verdict on a rapist within two months. Kejriwal and the some other speakers said yesterday that parliamentarians have all gone home after the Winter session of the House without bothering about the safety of the public even as a rape victim is fighting for her life in a Delhi hospital. Members of Aam Aadmi Party were later called for a meeting in Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s residence, where Moti lal Vora spoke to them on her behalf, a party spokesperson said. “Motilal Vora told us fast track courts are required, for which a law has to be enacted. He did not give any time frame,” said an AAP spokesperson.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has also asked the Union government to ensure that women do not feel insecure in the capital.
Taking note of the police action against protesting students, senior BJP leader LK Advani spoke to the home minister, asking him to ensure that police don’t use force against the protesters, who are mainly students. “There were reports that police had taken severe action against the protesters. I called the home minister and told him we should appreciate the concerns of the protesters, and their anger is justified. I have asked Sushil Kumar Shinde to tell the police commissioner and other officials to talk to the protesters and ask them to disperse instead of using force on them,” Advani told reporters.
Meanwhile, the protests witnessed in the capital have a striking similarly to those witnessed in August last year during the fast by Anna Hazare demanding an anti-corruption law.
While the August protests culminated in a special session of Parliament, called to discuss the Lok Pal Bill, the protests that have followed the rape are also leading in the same direction. Crowds, mostly youth and students, today poured out from nowhere, without being anchored or guided by any single organisation. Students from various private colleges in Delhi and even from Delhi Public School, were seen arriving in groups.
The All India Democratic Womens Association, affiliated to the CPI(M) is just one of the many organisations that are taking part in the impromptu gatherings outside Safdarjung Hospital and Raisina Hill.
Several Resident Welfare Associations have been organising candlelight marches around residential apartments, similar to the ones carried out when Anna Hazare was arrested last year.
Public anger and support for the student protesters in Delhi was reflected in Twitter, too. Many tweeted in protest against the tear gas and water cannon attack by Delhi Police on protesters in Raisina Hill .
“I stand proud today of the students of Delhi. It’s d new caring politically aware generation not afraid 2 stand up for what they believe in,” tweeted film-maker Shekhar Kapoor.
Rakesh Om prakash Mehra, the maker of film Rang De Basanti, on youth anger at public wrongs, also praised the young protesters and said winds of change are blowing... “Their will be a hundred thousand at Raj Path tomorrow Every street in Delhi a Raj Path Winds of change are blowing.”
Twitter was also flooded with criticism of police action against the protesting students.