Why freedom is a war-cry in Kashmir

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

On December 17 2012, a 23-year-old college-going girl was gang-raped and ruthlessly assaulted in a moving bus in New Delhi. The incident shook the nation. The irate protesters  mostly youth, poured out on the streets the very next day. As the victim battled for her life on a hospital bed, people across India protested and prayed simultaneously. She was air-lifted to Singapore for advanced treatment and finally succumbed to her injuries there after 13 days. Young protestors in Delhi had to face the wrath of police as they marched on heavily-fortified Raisina Hill, housing President’s official residence. Tear-gas shells, water cannons and lathis were employed against the visibly enraged mob of protesters who were demanding death to the accused and stringent law to deal with rapists.

The degree of outrage and anger against the rape of that girl is heartening. However, this is not an isolated case, and certainly not the first time such a gruesome incident has taken place. It has only brought back the haunting memories of Kunan Poshpora, a small hamlet in North Kashmir, where at least 53 women were gang raped on February 23, 1991 by Indian security forces. Two decades on, there has been no action against the accused cops from 4th Rajputana Rifles.

 

The 2009 Shopian double rape and murder case also comes to mind. wo young women, Aasiya and Neelofar, were abducted, gang-raped and murdered in mysterious circumstances on the intervening night of May 29 and 30, 2009 at Bongam, Shopian in North KashmirLocals accused the CRPF personnel of the crime, but the case was carefully shelved to avoid embarrassment for security forces.

images azadi

Crimes, perpetrators and inaction

On December 06, 2012, International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) released a report – ‘Alleged Perpetrators – Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir’. The report, a painstaking research work of two years, using data from official state documents and witness testimonies, examines 214 cases of gross human rights abuses and the role of 500 alleged perpetrators. Among the 500 perpetrators include 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary personnel, 111 Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel and 31 government-backed associates. The list of alleged perpetrators has many heavyweight designations, including two Major Generals, three Brigadiers, nine Colonels, three Lieutenant Colonels, 78 Majors and 25 Captains. The list also includes 37 senior officials of the federal paramilitary forces, a retired Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, and a serving Inspector General. “Cases presented in this report reveal that there is a policy not to genuinely investigate or prosecute the armed forces for human rights violations,” said the press handout by IPTK.

Taking serious cognizance of the report, Amnesty International called for an ‘impartial probe into the allegations of human rights violations made in a report’. The Asian Federation Against Enforced Disappearances (AFAD) said ‘the study clearly points to a high level of command decision, given the involvement of top ranking officers of the Indian Army, the highest of them a Major General. If used to the full, it will go a long way towards the unveiling of the truth, the prosecution of perpetrators, reparation for victims and the non-repetition of human rights violations in this paradise lost”. However, the findings of report, notwithstanding their gravity and seriousness, have gone largely unnoticed in mainstream Indian media.

In a state of perpetual denial

The sense of alienation between the people of Kashmir and India has reached its climax. However, people in New Delhi and other metropolis of India still have one prickly question on their mind which occasionally brings out their patriotic outrage against anything they perceive as ‘anti-national’ and dangerous to the ‘sovereignty’ of India. That is the question of ‘azadi’ or ‘freedom’.

For the people in India, the definition of ‘azadi’ still appears hazy. “What do Kashmiris want,” asks a journalist friend of mine from South Delhi. “Azadi,” I tell him. He appears bemused, almost fuming.  “But what does azadi mean to you. Aren’t you free already,” he asks with a puckered brow. “If living under the specter of terror and breathing through the barrel of Kalashnikov is what you call azadi, then we are more azad (free) than you,” I retort. He retreats, with exasperated looks.

Azadi is not a strange beast or a hydra-headed monster. It means people demand their basic and fundamental right to lead a dignified life. It means breaking free from the specter of repressive laws which provide police and armed forces with extraordinary powers. Azadi means justice for one lakh Kashmiris killed in last two decades of conflict. It means justice for 7000 odd custodial killings, and 3700 odd people who have vanished under mysterious circumstances in past two decades.

Kashmir happens to be the most militarized zone in world, more than Iraq and Afghanistan. The struggle for the right to self determination has a long history, because Kashmir has always been ruled by ‘outsiders’.

Massacres and culture of impunity

The people of India need to be reminded of the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s promise at Lalchowk Srinagar, where he spoke to a large gathering accompanied by his friend Shiekh Abdullah. They should be reminded about umpteen UN resolutions on Kashmir and how successive regimes in New Delhi made mockery of them. Speaking of killings, massacres, carnage; they need to be told about Gaw Kadal Massacre on January 20, 1990. Central Reserve Police Force had opened fire on a group of unarmed Kashmiri protesters, including women and children, leaving over 200 people in pools of blood. Author Victoria Schofield calls it the “worst massacre in Kashmiri history” in her book ‘Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War’. This massacre took place just a day after New Delhi sent Jagmohan as Governor to Kashmir on January 19, 1990.

images gaw kadal

Chhatisingpora massacre that took place on 20 March 2000 is another blot on the face of India. Around 15 armed personnel entered the village of Chattisinghpora in Anantnag district, lined up 34 men and boys belonging to Sikh community in an open field and mowed them down in cold blood. This happened on the eve of the then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India. And worse, none of those army personnel were prosecuted in the case.

Five days after the Chattisinghpora massacre, a battalion of Indian troopers gunned down seven men in Pathribal village of Anantnag district, dubbing them as ‘foreign militants’ responsible for Chhatisingpora. This year on 19th March 2012, CBI informed that the fake encounter at Pathribal “were cold-blooded murders and the accused officials deserve to be meted out exemplary punishment.”

Zakoora massacre happened on March 1, 1990, when thousands of protestors decided to approach United Nations Military Observer Group office in Srinagar, next to CM’s Gupkar Road residence, to protest against the policies of governor Jagmohan. They got bullets from army, leaving 26 dead. Tengpora massacre took place on the same day, when 21 more Kashmiri people, totally unarmed, were killed by Indian army at a bus stop in Tengpora, Srinagar. The dead included 5 women. There is also Handwara Massacre, when nine civilians were shot dead by BSF on January 25 1990 in frontier district of Handwara. The list goes on.

The new ‘intafada’

The year 2009-10 brought back the memories of 90s when resistance movement was at its peak. Many people were killed, most of them innocents. A 45-year old physically challenged Abdul Rashid Reshi was shot dead on January 07 near CM’s high-security bungalow in Srinagar. A 17-year old Amina fell to bullets on May 12, 2009 in ‘exchange of fire’. Neelofar (24) and Asiya Jan (17) of Shopian were raped and murdered on May 29 2009. A B.A. final year student Amina Masoodi of Doolipora Trahgam was killed inside her house during the night intervening of July 8 and 9, 2009. Inayat (16) was shot dead on January 08, 2009 followed by Wamiq (13) on January 31 and Zahid (16) on February 05. Habibullah Khan of Handwara, a beggar, was mowed down on April 13 and passed off as ‘veteran militant’. Shehzad Ahmed and Riyaz Ahmed of Rafiabad were mowed down in fake encounter in Machil and dubbed as ‘militants’.

Tufail Ahmad (17), whose death gave fresh impetus to the spirit of rebellion among Kashmiris, was killed while returning from tuitions on June 11 2010. Asif Ahmed Rather, a nine year old from Baramulla was literally bludgeoned to death. Mukhtar Ahmad Sheikh, 68, a father of five children, including three daughters was shot dead by Army’s 21 Rashtriya Rifles in the Bawan Watser forest area. Army said the sexagenarian man was killed in an encounter between militants and the army. These were followed by even more brutal killings of Ishtiyaq Ahmed Khanday (15) on June 29, 2010, Shajat-ul-Islam (18) on same day, Muzaffar Bhat (17) and Abrar Ahmad (18) on July 06. An 11 year old Irshad Parray of Islamabad fell to pallets fired by police while protesting against the earlier incident of women’s beating by police and CRPF. One injured boy died on his mother’s lap near Batamallo bus stand during curfew on August 2010. And the list goes on. There were more than 150 killings, mostly teenagers, in 2009-10 alone.

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Vanished into thin air?

Nazima Jan of Tathmulla Uri in Baramulla district has been waiting for her “missing” three brothers, since past one and a half decades. She, alongwith the kith and kin of other missing persons, gather in Partap Park Srinagar on the 10th and 28th day of every month to register their protest against enforced custodial disappearances in Kashmir. They have formed Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).

A 48-page report ‘Half Widow, Half Wife’ by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) speaks about the conundrum of ‘missing versus disappeared’. It says the fact that men have disappeared and not been declared dead has left thousands of children and women (half-widows) in a hopeless state without no legal protection.

Activists claim that close to 8,000 people have gone missing in the region over the last 20 years. The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice (IPTK) in Kashmir in its report released in December 2009 revealed 2,700 unmarked graves containing more than 2,900 bodies in more than 50 villages in northern Kashmir. Due to some operational constraints, it was confined to few select villages so they suspect the number could be much higher. In August 2011, the 11-member police investigation team of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) verified 2156 unidentified bodies in unidentified graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara, and Handwara districts.

Arrested, persecuted and released

The tales of horror do not stop in Kashmir. Many Kashmiris have faced the music in different states of India. There have been many instances where Kashmiri journalists, academics, artists and students have been abused, vilified, and targeted by state and its agencies outside Kashmir.

Syed Maqbool Shah (32) was 17 when he was arrested by Delhi Police on 17 June 1996 in Lajpat Nagar. He was holidaying in Delhi when was arrested in connection with the Lajpat Nagar bombings of 21 May 1996. He was sent to Tihar Jail, and released on 8 April 2010 after almost 14 years, due to ‘lack of sufficient evidence’.

Mirza Iftikhar Hussain (40) used to run a Kashmiri handicrafts shop in Mussoorie (UP), and had come to Delhi when he was arrested in Bhogal on 14 June 1996. He was also accused of involvement in the 21 May 1996 Lajpat Nagar blasts. He was set free on April 08, 2010 after 13 years, 10 months and 25 days, again for want of foolproof evidence.

Shakeel Ahmad Khan had a government job in Srinagar. He had come to Delhi when he was arrested on 24 April 1992 in Lajpat Nagar for allegedly plotting to kill some BJP politicians. He was released in August 2002 after serving almost 10 years behind bars, again for lack of evidence.

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Delhi University Professor SAR Geelani was arrested in the 2001 Parliament attack case and was later acquitted after some human rights activists took up his case. There are still more questions than answers in the case of Afzal Guru, who has been sentenced to death in Parliament attack case, to satisfy the ‘collective conscience of the society’. What makes the ‘death sentence’ gross and disproportionate, according to legal experts, is the fact that Guru’s case is riddled with many loopholes and he was not defended properly at the trail court.

The case of Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Gilani is most peculiar. He was arrested in June 2002 for allegedly ‘violating’ the Indian Official Secrets Act 1923. He was accused of being a Pakistani spy, after police found some ‘documents’ from his possession, which otherwise are freely available on internet and could be downloaded easily. He spent nine months behind bars and was finally acquitted for lack of evidence.

Tailpiece:

Life in Kashmir remains crippled. The political leadership has failed and economy is in shatters. No matter what the tourism ministry says, normalcy seems like a far-fetched dream right now. The fate of the strife-torn state hangs in balance. As the youth on streets would tell you, it is no more about the political or economic packages, the half-hearted pronouncements, or the cosmetic confidence-building-measures. The resounding war-cry on the streets of Kashmir is ‘azaadi’, which translates into complete freedom from the specter of oppression, repression, humiliation, and occupation. That is a war-cry.

 

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Disability-friendly workplaces

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Employment is about self-expression. For disabled persons, it is an expression of their inherent
abilities, dignified acceptance in society and normalization of their lives. However, in the
past, while some have struggled to attract decent jobs, others have faced the axe owing to
their disability. A small minority of social intellectuals and activists working for the rights of
disabled people have vociferously challenged exclusionary and stigmatising social processes
that hinder the growth and progress of people with disabilities. And, over the years, there has
been a perceptible change in the mindset of people towards persons with disabilities. Many top
companies have also thrown open their doors for these differently-abled persons, giving birth to
the concept of disability-friendly workplaces.getimage.dll

Being ‘disability-friendly’ implies accommodating thewide-ranging needs of these workers,
enhancing their accessibility requirements and ensuring a more inclusive and productive work
environment. It can also extend to providing flexibility at workplace, in terms of part-time work
or compressed work schedules, which can help them manage their needs better.

Commitment to provide equal opportunity

Industry observers believe the organisations that incorporate disability matters in corporate
diversity policies create a healthy ambience at workplace. It often leads to superior leadership,
greater innovation and higher productivity. Many companies have started to underline their
commitment to provide equal opportunity to people with disabilities in their recruitment policy.

To assert the company’s commitment towards its diversity initiatives, France based world’s
leading hotel operators Accor made a formal declaration in 2007 to combat discrimination at
workplace. In the declaration, the company pledged to fight all forms of discrimination based
on ‘origins, gender, family situation, health, disability, beliefs, political opinions, union activity,
ethnic preferences, nationality, race, or religion’. Cisco Systems Inc., one of the world’s largest
technology corporations, commits to ‘recruit, promote, reassign, and train people regardless of
race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or nationality’.

Ernst & Young’s commitment to shun discrimination is underpinned by a comprehensive policy
statement to ensure that employees are not treated unjustly on the grounds of ‘sex, marital status,
race, ethnic and national origin, disability, religion, sexual orientation, age and trade union
membership or non‐membership’. Japan-based Hondo Motors’ policy states that the company
will not display favoritism on the basis of ‘place of birth, nationality, beliefs, religion, sex, race,

ethnic origin, age, physical or mental disability, legally protected medical condition, hobbies,
education, or status within society’. IBM cites disability in a number of company policies,
such as global employment standards policy, workforce diversity policy, diverse business
relationships policy etc.

Accomodating the disabled

The phenomenon of disability represents wide array of conditions with different peculiarities
that require unique accommodation. Accommodating persons with disabilities is a challenge
that can yield fruitful results. For instance, people with hearing impairment may require sign
language interpretation, while persons with other impairments do not. Visually-impaired people
need Braille, while persons with other impairments do not. Impairments are not constant and
differ from one person to other, and degree of impairment can also change over the course of
employment, so employers need to accommodate them accordingly.

However, the work related challenges resulting out of complex economic and social processes
demonstrate the changing circum-stances that can hamper the prospects for people with
disabilities. The shortcomings faced by disabled persons are due to the combination of factors
that affect different people differently.

Benefits of disabled friendly workplace

Reams of research on the benefits of disabled-friendly workplaces have found that persons
with disability often make better employees. Recruiting persons with disability can improve the
image of organisation in society and strengthen the employer brand. It leads to higher morale of
workers, which in turn reflects in the productivity and performance.

Persons with disabilities are perceived to be more reliable and committed to the organisation,
resulting in higher retention rates and relatively low costs of training and recruitment. Hiring
disabled persons, more importantly, means promoting a diverse workforce.

Top companies with disabled friendly environment

Many top companies have realised that persons with disabilities represent an untapped source
of skills and talent. As productive, dynamic, and loyal employees, they are an asset to the
organisation.

IBM recruited its first employee with disability in 1914. After that, it employed many disabled
veterans of World War I. Among the slew of measures taken by company to create a disability-
friendly workplace includes establishing a training centre in New York for disabled people in
1943. In 1972, in collaboration with US government, IBM started a computer teaching and
training programme to offer job-oriented training to people with physical disabilities.

UK-based leading retailer of clothing, food and home products, Marks & Spencer works actively
with many organisations to offer job opportunities to persons with disabilities. In 2004, the

company launched Marks & Start, a work experience programme designed for jobless youth,
destitute, and disabled persons.

Microsoft’s CrossDisability Employee Resource Group (XD-ERG) represents employees with
disabilities such as hearing impairment, visual impairments, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder, and dyslexia. Its prime objective is to enable employees attain their full potential
through adequate representation, inclusion and accommodation.

For Nokia, diversity is a critical component of business. Its largest factory in Hungary is taking
the lead in hiring people with disabilities in partnership with non‐governmental organisations.

For Sodexo, the initiatives for the welfare of persons with disabilities vary from country to
country. However, the goals and objectives are same – to enhance the efficiency and productivity
of persons with disabilities by providing the requisite training and workplace accommodations.
In the United States, Sodexo has established a Disabilities Task Force to raise awareness about
disabilities within the company.

The way ahead

Organisations in India need to walk the talk to pave way for the disability-friendly workplaces
and promote an inclusive culture and diversity. The top management must show far-sightedness
and commitment. The disability clause should be categorically enshrined in the policies,
procedures, and practices. There should not be any discrimination on any ground, and workers
with disabilities must be employed at all levels of the organisation. It is also important to educate
employees about disabilities, and provide training to disabled employees to help them realize
their full potential. Hiring and selection procedures should be non-discriminatory in nature,
and employers must show willingness to provide help to individuals with disabilities during the
hiring process.

 

‘India’s Daughter’ brings nation together

Syed Zafar Mehdi

On the fateful night of December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old para-medical student was ruthlessly gang-raped and assaulted in a moving bus in New Delhi. The incident shook the nation. Thousands of irate protestors, mostly youth, poured out on the streets across the country the very next day. As the victim battled for her life at Safdarjung Hospital, people across India prayed for her speedy recovery. After being on ventilator for many days, her condition deteriorated and she was air-lifted to Singapore for advanced medical treatment. She finally succumbed to her injuries at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore on December 29, 2012. Her body was cremated according to Hindu rites on December 30.

As the news of her death broke, protestors in India stormed streets and demonstrations only turned louder and raucous. They demanded death to the accused and stringent law to deal with the rapists. The story around the incident has hogged the headlines everywhere, forcing partially-paralyzed government on the back foot. Social media has been abuzz, and many social media commentators have unequivocally condemned the incident and made strong case for robust legal remedies to avert recurrence of such horrifying crimes in New Delhi, which has earned the dubious distinction of being the most unsafe city in India.

In the happy days

The victim, who has been bestowed with pseudonyms like Jyoti, Jagruti, Amanat, Nirbhaya and Damini was born and brought uo in Delhi, while her parents originally hailed from a small village in the Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh. Her father, who had to sell of his agricultural farm to finance her studies, works as loader at Delhi’s airport. Eldest of three siblings, her parents had pinned immense hopes in her. She was exceptionally good in studies and used to give tuition to children at their one-room flat near airport. Her childhood was mostly spent in that one-room flat.

She had initially wished to become a doctor but couldn’t afford the mammoth fees so she settled for physiotherapy. After four years of study in Dehradun (Uttarakhand), she had returned to Delhi in October for an internship. Since November 2008, she was working for a call-centre outsourcing firm in Dehradun. The 23-year-old used to work overnight shifts at a call centre, fielding calls from mortgage holders in Canada, as reported by Wall Street Journal.

The fateful night

The girl and her friend – a 28-year old Software engineer from Delhi – were returning from a South Delhi mall after watching the movie Life of Pi on that fateful night. They boarded the chartered bus at Munirka bus stand for Dwarka. According to sources, when the duo entered the bus, only six people were inside, who were not the passengers. They started passing lewd remarks in a derogatory manner towards the girl, to which her friend objected, resulting in a heated argument.

They started to assault the boy with iron rod, and when the girl intervened; they thrashed her as well. The six men then dragged the girl to the rear of the bus and raped her. Medical reports later showed serious injuries to her abdomen, intestines and genitals as the accused men had pierced a rusted iron rod in her genitals.

After the brute assault, the duo was thrown out of the vehicle. The accused men even tried to trample the girl under the bus, but her friend somehow managed to save her.

Protests across the country

Protest marches, candle light vigils, silent sit-ins have been going on passionately across the country since the incident took place. The rage on the streets has only intensified since her death. Protestors demand exemplary punishment to the six accused men, and sweeping amendments in the laws related to rape in India. “Most of the rapists get away with milder punishments and many other accused are released from jails after serving their terms. The penalty should have a deterrent value, otherwise it becomes a joke,” says Sahil Arora, a young protestor in New Delhi.

However, Delhi government and police faced lot of criticism for its inapt handling of protests. Young protestors in Delhi were thrashed by riot police as they marched on heavily-fortified Raisina Hill, stone’s throw from the official residence of the President of India. Tear-gas shells, water cannons and batons were employed against the visibly enraged mob of protestors, who resorted to stone-pelting. Many political represtatives across the party lines took part in the protests, and they were also joined by activists, celebrities, academics, artists, students etc.

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter was abuzz with passionate updates. Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan tweeted, “Rape embodies sexuality as our culture and society has defined it. I am so sorry that I am a part of this society and culture.” Legendary actor Amitabh Bacchhan even penned down a poem to pay tribute to the victim.

Outcry outside India

While the horrifying incident has drawn widespread outrage and condemnation across India, from politicians, superstars and human rights activists, it has also generated international coverage and shaken up the international community. United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women condemned it unequivocally and called on the government of India “to do everything in their power to take up radical reforms, ensure justice and reach out with robust public services to make women’s lives more safe and secure.”

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon has also urged the Indian government to take concrete measures to ensure safety and security of women. “Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected,” he said in a statement. He welcomed the efforts by the government but called for “further steps and reforms to deter such crimes and bring perpetrators to justice”.

The perpetrators

Some of the accused men were nabbed by police within 24 hours. Now, all the six men involved in the case are in police custody. Ram Singh, the bus driver and his brother Mukesh Singh, were arrested in Rajasthan. Vinay Sharma, a gym instructor and Pawan Gupta, a fruit seller, were both arrested in Delhi. Muhammad Afroz aka Raju, who is the only minor of the six accused, was arrested at Anand Vihar terminal in Delhi. Akshay Thakur was arrested in Aurangabad, Bihar.

Most of these accused are residents of the slum in Sector 3, RK Puram. They were together that night, and were heavily drunk. The youngest one, Raju had joined them first time. The charter bus that Ram Singh drove on weekdays was not meant for public passengers and had tinted windows. They had picked up a carpenter earlier and robbed him of Rs. 8,000.

According to Delhi Police chief, the accused had washed the bus after the crime to eliminate evidence. According to some reports doing rounds, the accused told investigators that they tortured and raped the girl to ‘teach her a lesson’ as she tried to prevent them from assaulting her friend.

Shocking confession

In an exclusive interview to Zee News, a national television channel, on Januray 4, the 28 year old software engineer who accompanied the victim on that fateful night made some startling disclosures. He described in vivid detail how the duo was lured on to the bus and how the five men inside the bus misbehaved with him and his friend, leading to an altercation and brutal assault. The occupants of the bus, he said, had laid a proper trap before luring them on to bus. They were involved in some other crimes on the same day.

Slamming the police and public, he said they did not act swiftly. No one provided them clothes or called an ambulance. There were some 20 people there (including policemen), who were just watching them. “We were without any clothes, desperately trying to stop the cars and auto rickshaws passing by. Some of them slowed down but did not stop. We were lying there for about 25 minutes, before someone on patrolling stopped and called the police,” said the 28 year old man to Zee News.

“Nobody from public came forward to help us that time. They were probably afraid that if they helped, they would become witnesses to the crime and would be required to make rounds of police stations and courts,” he added. After the interview was aired by Zee News on the night of January 04, police filed a complaint against the channel.

Brouhaha over victim’s identification

Indian media had refrained from disclosing the identity of the victim and the man who accompanied her that night. But, after the victim died, many people suggested that her name be made public so that it becomes a source of inspiration for women to fight for their rights. Congress MP and Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor led the chorus, tweeting that the name of the braveheart girl be disclosed to honour her memory. His suggestion however did not go down well with his party. “I suggest that since he is a part of the government, he should have given the suggestion to the government rather than making any such statement in public,” AICC spokesperson Rashid Alvi said.

Another twist came when a British paper revealed her name, quoting her father as saying ‘We want the world to know her real name. My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself.” The Sunday People, the Daily Mirror’s Sunday edition, interviewed him in his ancestral village in Ballia Uttar Pradesh. The next day, Hindustan Times carried a story, quoting the victim’s father that he did not allow his daughter to be identified. Her identity should be made public only if a law was named after her, he told the paper.

Controversial remarks

Abhijit Mukherjee, the son of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and MP in West Bengal stirred the hornet’s nest by his ‘dented and painted misogynist remark, in an interview to ABP Ananda. “These pretty women, dented and painted, who come for protests are not students. I have seen them speak on television, usually women of this age are not students,” he said in Bengali. He went on to say that the students who go to discotheques think it is a fashion statement to hold candles and protest. The remarks snowballed into a major controversy and huge embarrassement for Congress party.

A spiritual guru, Asharam also sparked a controversy when he said the gangrape victim was equally responsible and should have “chanted God’s name and fallen at the feet of the attackers” to save herself from the brutal assault. Mohan Bhagwat, chief of right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) made another controversial remark saying that the rapes only occur in Indian cities, not in its villages (Bharat), because women in cities adopt western lifestyle. Both the remarks of Asharam and Bhagwat were vehemently denounced by the mainstream media.

After some lawyers initially refused to stand for the five accused men, a Supreme Court finally agreed to defend them. The lawyer representing three of the men charged with the gang rape and murder has put the blame squarely on the victim, saying he has never heard of a “respected lady” being raped in India. He says the male companion of the victim is “wholly responsible” for the gruesome incident as the unmarried couple should not have been on the streets at night.

“This is the type of herd mentality that most Indian men suffer from,” says Harish Kapoor, a social activist. “Justifying a horrifying crime by such lame and senseless arguments tells a lot about these people, from politicians to godmen to lawyers.”

The systemic overhaul needed

Government figures reveal that despite 635 reported cases of rape and 745 arrests in Delhi in 2012, there had been only one conviction. A total of 572 rapes were reported to Delhi police in 2011, up from 507 in 2010, 469 in 2009 and 466 in 2008. The government is setting up fast-track courts to ensure speedy dispensation of justice.

On January 01, government appointed a 13-member special task force headed by Union Home Secretary to probe into the safety issues of women in Delhi and review the functioning of the city police on a fortnightly basis. The task force comprises the Delhi city police commissioner, Delhi chief secretary, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women among others.

People in India are campaigning for the systemic overhaul. “Death penalty for rapists can never ensure justice for women. It is the women empowerment in our political, social and cultural institutions that will ensure justice,” says Vikram Paul, Delhi-based senior activist. “It is time to talk about Khap Panchayts and Personal Law boards also. We need rule of law where justice is accessible at easiest and fastest possible way.

……………………………………….

TIMELINE:

Dec 16: The paramedical student and her friend on the way back from a movie get into a bus at Munirka in south Delhi. She is gang-raped and tortured in the moving bus. She is admitted to Safdarjung Hospital.

Dec 17: Police arrest bus driver Ram Singh and two other accused.

Dec 18: The fourth accused is nabbed. Large numbers of people gather at India Gate to demand justice for the woman, battling for her life.

Dec 19: Doctors remove the victim’s intestines, susceptible to gangrene. Protests continue.

Dec 20: The friend identifies one of the accused as the rapist in Tihar Jail.

Dec 21: Police apprehends a juvenile, identified as the fifth accused.

Dec 21: As the young woman’s condition worsens, people take out a candle-light march outside 10 Janpath, the residence of Sonia Gandhi.

Dec 21: Police arrest sixth accused from Aurangabad in Bihar.

Dec 22: Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde announces a commission to probe the gangrape. Protests spread as police uses batons, water cannons and tear gas at crowds

Dec 23: The heart of the Indian capital turns into a battle zone as thousands denounce the gangrape. Clashes between police and protesters leave many injured at India Gate.

Dec 24: Two Delhi Police officers suspended for not stopping the bus with tinted windows in which the girl was raped.

Dec 25: Delhi policeman, who got injured during India Gate protests, succumbs to his injuries.

Dec 26: Gangrape victim flown to Singapore. Government asks a Delhi high court judge to probe the gangrape and suggest ways to make Delhi safer for women.

Dec 28: Sonia Gandhi joins Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and promises quick justice.

Dec 29: The woman dies in Singapore. Protests in Delhi turn worse..