New Delhi: She was the
faceless woman who bound a nation in concern and shame and made
India a talking point across the world. A month after a young
physiotherapy intern was gang-raped in the Indian capital and 18
days after she died of her injuries, the spotlight stays
resolutely on India's women and their status.
It was on the night of Dec 16 that the 23-year-old and her male
friend got on to a bus in Delhi's usually busy Munirka
neighbourhood after watching a movie. After assaulting her for
what seemed like hours, she was left battered and bleeding on the
roadside with her friend, both stripped off their clothes. On Dec
29, she died in a Singapore hospital where she was taken for
The incident touched a historic chord - one that still resonates.
And the discussion has covered the entire spectrum - from the
reasons for aggravated sexual assault and public response to
issues of patriarchy and the law.
And in what many women hope will be the turning point in the fight
for their rights, the horror of what happened to the young woman
continues to occupy mindspace, debated endlessly in colleges and
coffee shops, homes and offices.
In an unprecedented development, the story hasn't moved from the
front pages and protests still continue, not just in Delhi but
elsewhere in the country. Seldom before have Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi spoken out on
the need to improve safety for all of India's women.
The safety of women in public spaces is the one issue that
concerns every Indian family - from the richest, whose daughters
and wives go clubbing, to the poorest, whose women go out to work.
It was also the one incident that put India on the front pages of
the world's newspapers, putting an unwelcome spotlight on the
country's patriarchal and feudal traditions, sitting uneasily with
the India-on-the-move image.
The central government and those in the states, particularly
Delhi, have indeed moved to stave off some of the criticism.
Two committees were set up, the Delhi government set up a helpline
and put more police on the roads. Activists promised that the
movement for change would not be allowed to fizzle out.
The young intern's death, for which five men and a juvenile were
quickly arrested, should not be in vain. Sensitisation has to be a
continuum. Discussion on the way forward must continue.
As leading lawyer Vrinda Grover put it, this cannot be a one-off
"The case should not be looked at in isolation... it should become
the benchmark of how rape cases should be handled," Grover told
"And we should ask the government on the 16th of every month for a
report card on the progress made on reform, on what they have done
so far," she added.
A month after the incident that shook the nation's collective
conscience, Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women's
Association said: "No, we will not let the movement peter out."
One positive change that she noticed among many of the male
protesters, Krishnan said, was their coming to terms with their
"discomfort" of thinking of women as equals.
The protests, she said, had spurred a major movement among
participants to set up anti-sexual harassment committees in their
offices and colleges.
Vikas Sharma, a young protester, said: "The movement will never
end till we have achieved our goal - till the anti-rape laws and
anti-sexual harassment laws are made more stringent."
He is a sales executive who said he manages to be present at
Jantar Mantar, the 18th century observatory that became the
epicentre of the protests.
The anger has been sustained. And it must continue to be so, many
thousand Indians have resolved.