Protests continue, special parliament session demand grows

New Delhi, Dec 31 (IANS) A day after the gang-rape victim was quietly cremated here, loud protests continued Monday against rising crimes against women and the opposition reiterated its demand for a special session of parliament to discuss strengthening anti-rape laws.

Under attack from the Bharatiya Janata Party for the "drama" over the "hush-hush" cremation of the 23-year-old woman, who was brutally raped on a moving bus Dec 16, the Congress said it was done "in accordance with the parents' wishes".

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who went to the airport to receive the woman's body early Sunday, has conveyed to party members and well-wishers that she will not celebrate the New Year as a tribute to the dead trainee physiotherapist and asked them not to wish her on the occasion.

With the nation united in its feeling of grief and outrage over the brutal rape and the death of the woman, the Indian Army and several other institutions, including private clubs and residential societies, decided either to have low-key New Year celebrations or scrap them altogether.

At the Jantar Mantar, hundreds of protestors continued their vigil at the 18th century masonry observatory that has become the protest site since the horrific incident.

Undeterred by the biting cold and frosty winds, they sang songs, raised slogans and some even performed a 'havan' - a ritual by fire - for the departed soul. Monday was the season's coldest with the maximum at 13 degrees Celsius and the minimum at 5.5 degrees.

The Delhi government has announced Rs.15 lakh compensation to the woman's family and a job to one of her family members. She was the oldest of three siblings and was about to get a job.

Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who has been the target of ire of the anti-rape protestors and was even booed out of Jantar Mantar two days ago, made the compensation announcement. The chief minister attended the cremation at Dwarka early Sunday.

Addressing a condolence meeting organised by the party, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj lashed out at the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for the secrecy shrouding the cremation and demanded a special session of parliament.

"I had asked the prime minister to call a special session (of parliament). But my demand was rejected...I also asked them to call an all-party meet. That demand was also rejected," she said.

Former army chief Gen (retd) V.K. Singh also joined the chorus for a special session of parliament. Aam Admi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal had a few days ago made the same demand.

However, the Congress rejected the BJP's demand for a special session.

Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi told IANS: "This issue is not an issue that should be politicised."

"They are demanding a special session of parliament. This is no secret that when parliament is in session, they never allow parliament to function and when parliament is not in session, they are demanding it. It is very strange."

Congress spokesperson Renuka Choudhary denied the cremation was hushed up. "Nothing was done without the consent of the family, and their wish for privacy... they wanted it."

Sources said that Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has written to political parties inviting suggestions about possible changes in existing criminal laws to provide for stricter punishment in rape cases.

Expressing hope the mass outrage would lead the government to frame stricter laws, activist Subhashini Ali, who was part of the protestors at Jantar Mantar, told IANS the "situation will not change overnight, but the fact that so many people are coming out, in this cold and even spending the night here means something. Laws are there already but they need to be implemented."

Lokesh Batra, an RTI activist: "Because we did not do anything, so the situation continues to be the same. This pressure should continue..."

The social media, which has been a great contributor to strengthening the movement for a safer environment, especially for women, saw an online campaign being launched seeking cancellation of popular rapper Honey Singh's New Year's eve performance at the Bristol Hotel in Gurgaon. The outrage is over his use of crass lyrics around women.

The US too commented on the gang-rape and the massive street protests, calling for a change in "attitudes and (end) all forms of gender-based violence".

The young woman was gang-raped on a moving bus Dec 16. She was flown to Singapore last Wednesday night for treatment of her grievous injuries sustained during her 40-minute ordeal. She died in a Singapore hospital Saturday and was flown back early Sunday.