(Photo: Reuters/Amit Dave)
India has marked the New Year with subdued and somber celebrations in response to the rape crisis protesters say are sweeping the capital, New Delhi, while government institutions have canceled celebrations throughout the country and abroad.
Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress, has said there would be no official party to mark the New Year's, while army divisions, the government of the major Punjab and Haryana provinces, and Indian embassies abroad have all canceled their annual parties, according to Bloomberg News.
The decisions are in response to the growing public anger at the rape crisis unfolding in New Delhi, where women are often targeted and receive little protection. The recent death of a 23-year-old woman who was raped in a violent attack on a Delhi bus has ignited tensions in the world's second most populous country, with protests erupting around the city trying to bring the spotlight on a problem that people say has not received enough attention.
The unidentified woman suffered a savage attack with her male friend at the back of a moving bus on Dec. 16, when six men reportedly assaulted them with iron rods before throwing them out on the side of a road. The male friend survived, but after extensive operations in Singapore, the woman, said to be a physiotherapy student, succumbed to her injures. Her remains were cremated on Dec. 30, just a day before New Year's Eve. The alleged attackers, who were caught by police shortly after the incident, face the death penalty if convicted.
"No one felt like celebrating, and the club mourns tonight," explained Samir Singh, a member of New Delhi's exclusive British-era club the Delhi Gymkhana. "Our thoughts go out to the family, and there is nothing to rejoice anyway."
Other clubs around the city also canceled their New Year's Eve celebrations, Washington Post reported.
"We used to go to India Gate to ring in the new year," added Digvijay Dahiya, a 38-year-old real estate agent from Delhi. "But today we can't, and we don't want to."
Protests in the capital turned violent in the early days following the attack, with police having to fight back and disperse crowds that had gathered in front of the government building to demand more action from authorities in addressing sex crimes.
"Before coming here, my parents told me to get home before evening. That's the kind of fear we all have," said one student, Surabhi Suri, 20. "It's the right time to take the movement forward, to make our nation safer for women."
At a demonstration, she held a place card that read: "I am at fault, I elected such worthless leaders."
People are calling for more protection on the streets for women, but they also want the legal process of trying rapists to move faster and more efficiently. As of July, there were 63,342 sexual crime cases pending before the Supreme Court in the country, 67 percent of which had been going on for more than a year. Many crimes against women in India also go unreported, protesters claim.