NEW DELHI: India’s government ordered a special inquiry Wednesday into the gang-rape of a student which sparked mass protests, as police announced the arrest of 10 men over another multiple sex assault.
While a wave of angry protests over the December 16 assault on the student in New Delhi subsided, news of a Christmas Eve gang-rape in rural Tamil Nadu again shone the spotlight on the frightening levels of violence against women.
The victim of the attack in New Delhi is still fighting for her life while an officer who was admitted to hospital while policing the protests died Tuesday.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who is also the government’s top spokesman, said a retired judge, Usha Mehra, had agreed to head a commission of inquiry.
The inquiry would “identify the lapses if any on the part of the police, or another authority or person that contributed to the occurrence, and fix responsibility for the lapses or negligence”, he said after a cabinet meeting.
Chidambaram also said a separate panel would examine existing legislation and “suggest changes in the laws in order to make punishment for such horrific crimes stiffer”.
The panel will submit its report in 30 days, he added.
“Whatever we do now is intended to demonstrate the government’s serious intent in the matter that we will apprehend and punish the perpetrators, we will try and find out what went wrong… and fix responsibility and amend the laws.”
The Delhi gang-rape victim remains in a critical condition in hospital after suffering horrific injuries during her assault on a bus, which began when she and a male companion were picked up after a night out at the cinema.
Police and prosecutors say six men, who were drunk and were joy-riding in an off-duty bus with tinted windows, took turns in raping the student before throwing her off the vehicle.
The victim suffered enormous intestinal injuries after being assaulted with an iron rod during the 40-minute attack.
All six alleged rapists have now been arrested and remanded in custody.
Official figures show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year were against women, with the number of rapes in the capital rising 17 percent to 661 this year.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets since December 16 to demonstrate both against the levels of violence and also the notoriously slow criminal justice system.
Speaking alongside Chidambaram, Information Minister Manish Tiwari appealed for calm and restraint.
“It is important to underscore sensitivity and restraint from all sides is called for,” he said.
“It is an emotive issue and an emotive issue evokes sentiments (but) at this point of time the overriding priority for all of us is to see that peace, tranquillity and calm is maintained.”
Despite Tiwari’s appeal, around 200 people took part in a new demonstration on Wednesday on a boulevard in central Delhi – including women and school children – where they shouted anti-government slogans.
“If the government is unable to take the decision, give them to us. We will kill them,” read a placard.
Stung by criticism, the government has said it will consider introducing the death penalty for the worst attacks and promised to speed up the trial system.
In the attack in Tamil Nadu, 10 men overpowered the male companion of a 20-year-old woman in the Cuddalore district on Christmas Eve and then took turns to rape her for two hours, police said.
“The victim had gone to the bank of a river with her boyfriend on Monday evening when the couple was attacked,” district police chief A Radhika told AFP by telephone from Cuddalore.
“We arrested the 10 suspects on Tuesday and charged them with rape and also booked them under (tribal protection) laws because she was a tribal,” Radhika said.
The officer said the woman was in stable condition in hospital under “basic medical treatment.”