Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh pledged yesterday to take action to protect the nation’s women as the young victim of a gang rape on a New Delhi bus was flown to Singapore for treatment.
The rape and beating of the 23-year-old student earlier this month has triggered widespread protests demanding a government crackdown on the daily harassment Indian women face.
Some protesters have called for the death penalty or castration for rapists, who under current laws face a maximum punishment of life in prison.
Rape victims rarely press charges because of social stigma and fear they will be accused of inviting the attack. Many women say they structure their lives around protecting themselves and their daughters from attack.
Mr Singh’s government set up two committees in response to the protests. One, looking into speeding up sexual assault trials, has received 6,100 e-mail suggestions.
The second will examine what lapses might have contributed to the rape – which took place on a moving bus that passed through police checkpoints – and suggest measures to improve womens’ safety.
“Let me state categorically that the issue of safety and security of women is of the highest concern to our government,” Mr Singh said.
“There can be no meaningful development without the active participation of half the population, and this participation simply cannot take place if their security and safety is not assured,” he said.
The victim arrived in Singapore on an air ambulance yesterday and was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Mount Elizabeth hospital, renowned for multi-organ transplant facilities.
Last night, she remained in “extremely critical condition” as a team of specialists worked to stabilise her, a spokesman for the hospital said.
Before arriving in Singapore, she had already undergone three abdominal procedures and suffered cardiac arrest, he said.
India’s home minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, said that the government – which is funding and overseeing the victim’s treatment – had decided to send her abroad on the recommendation of her doctors.
“Despite the best efforts of our doctors, the victim continues to be critical and her fluctuating health remains a big cause of concern to all of us,” he said.
Her family was also being sent to Singapore to be with her during her treatment, which could last weeks, he said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters demanding safer public transportation for women and the resignation of Delhi’s police commissioner tried to march to the major India Gate traffic circle in central Delhi before being stopped by police in riot gear manning barricades.
Protesters carried signs reading “End rape culture in India” and “Zero tolerance of violence against women”. Protests shut down the centre of the capital for days since the incident. Police quashed some of the demonstrations with tear gas, water cannons and baton charges.
One officer died on Tuesday after collapsing during a weekend protest. He had suffered a heart attack.