New Delhi, Dec 29: Thousands gathered near the 18th century Jantar Mantar observatory in the heart of the Indian capital in a mass outpouring of grief for the young gang-raped woman who died Saturday. As news of her death after 13 days of struggle emerged, the young and the old, men and women, began to silently gather at the site, the number reaching a thousand by afternoon and rapidly swelling thereafter.
By night, there was a sea of humanity holding candles — and placing them neatly in winding rows in memory of the 23-year-old who passed away early Saturday in a Singapore hospital.
Some people held larger flaming torches.
The crowds were largely peaceful. But tempers ran high briefly when Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit made a sudden appearance, triggering loud boos. After lighting a candle, Dikshit made a hurried exit.
Underneath the calm, there was palpable anger.
“They (the six rapists) should be hanged within 13 days of the funeral rites (of the victim),” Deep Kaur, 21, told IANS. “Only then will her soul rest in peace.”
Delhi’s cold weather did not deter the protesters from showing their solidarity with the woman who since her rape Dec 16 had become a symbol of everything that is rotten in the Indian system.
Even the closure of 10 Delhi Metro stations and the blockade of several roads in and around India Gate could not stop the crowds from pouring into Jantar Mantar.
“The law must be amended. It is time to awaken the government,” said Ashok Rajput, a 28-year-old employee of a diplomatic mission. “Rapists should be hanged.”
Political pundit Yogendra Yadav was there too. “It is only by ensuring that such a barbaric incident does not happen again is how we can pay our homage to her,” he said.
Many held placards — and hand-written posters. Some sang memorial songs in unison. Others shouted slogans. A few gave fiery speeches. The one common message was: Enough is enough!
Some sprawled on the road with black ribbons tied to their mouths.
Student Nogita Chakrobarty explained why: “We are lying down as we want to show that we too have died along with the young woman. It’s a Black Saturday for all of us.”
A young man and his friend dressed as “Lady of Justice” also demanded that the six males in the bus who gang-raped the victim, a physiotherapist intern, should be hanged within the 13-day Hindu mourning period.
Jantar Mantar, in the very heart of Delhi, was one of only two places Delhi Police said protests could take place. The rest of central Delhi was barricaded by several hundred police and paramilitary personnel.
A few politicians did reach Jantar Mantar but remained largely in the background. They included Brinda Karat, a Marxist and a women’s activist. Aam Admi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal sat in the crowd, silently.
In the evening, former army chief V.K. Singh made an appearance.
A few men IANS spoke to said they had taken a vow: there should be no violence against women.