guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 1 January 2013
Hundreds of women in Delhi have applied for gun licences following the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman by six men in a bus in the city last month.
The news underlines the widespread sense of insecurity in the city, deep before the incident and deeper now, and the lack of faith in law enforcement agencies.
The ashes of the victim of the attack – who died on Friday after 13 days in hospitals in India and Singapore, and was cremated in Delhi in a secret ceremony under heavy security on Sunday – were scattered on the surface of the Ganges river, sacred to Hindus, in northern India on Tuesday.
The case has provoked an unprecedented debate about endemic sexual harassment and violence in India. Tens of thousands have protested across the country, calling for harsher laws, better policing and a change in culture.
Politicians, initially caught off-guard, have now promised new legislation to bring in fast-track courts and harsher punishments for sexual assault. The six men accused of the attack are to be formally charged with murder later this week and potentially face execution.
Indian media are currently reporting incidents of sexual violence that would rarely gain attention previously. In the last 24 hours these have included a teenager fleeing repeated abuse by her brother, who was allegedly assaulted on a bus by a conductor, a 15-year-old held for 15 days by three men in a village in Uttar Pradesh and repeatedly assaulted, an 11-year-old allegedly raped by three teenagers in the north-eastern city of Guwahati and two cases of rape in the city of Amritsar.
One case reported on Tuesday involved a woman, also in a village in Uttar Pradesh, who suffered 90% burns after being doused in kerosene, allegedly by a man who had been stalking her for months.
There were signs that a further taboo was about to be broken when one of India’s best-known English-language television presenters asked viewers who had experienced abuse from a family member to contact her.
The rush for firearms will cause concern, however. Police in Delhi have received 274 requests for licences and 1,200 inquiries from women since 18 December, two days after the woman and a male friend were attacked in a bus cruising on busy roads between 9pm and 10pm.
“Lots of women have been contacting us asking for information about how to obtain licences. Any woman has a threat against her. It’s not surprising. There are fearless predators out there,” said Abhijeet Singh of the campaign group Guns For India. Continue reading