India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for calm on Monday after a weekend of riots left large swaths of New Delhi on police lockdown and all public transportation at a standstill. According to the Wall Street Journal, men and women filled the streets on Saturday and Sunday calling for harsher penalties for rapists and greater protections for women after the horrifying gang rape of a 23-year-old woman made headlines earlier this month.
“I feel deeply sad at the turn of events leading to clashes between protesters and police forces. Anger at this crime is justified but violence will serve no purpose,” Mr. Singh said. “As a father of three daughters myself, I feel as strongly about this as each one of you.”
Police used water cannons and fired tear gas grenades at crowds of angry protesters who set fire to barricades and overturned a government vehicle. There were about 85 injuries, according to police, and several protesters were detained and later released.
The actions come as Indian society reels from the widely publicized gang rape and beating of a 23-year-old student by six men and a bus driver on a public bus. The WSJ reported that the attackers beat the woman and a male companion with metal bars and that her injuries from the sexual assault were so extensive that a section of her intestine had to be removed.
As the victims pled for help, the bus driver reportedly picked up and dropped off more men, circling the city for hours, passing through multiple police checkpoints. The couple were eventually stripped off their clothing and thrown from the bus on a highway at the outskirts of the city.
Six men, including the bus driver, have been arrested and charged, but trials have yet to begin.
The victims’ names have been witheld, but the woman’s father appeared on television with his face blurred. He, too, appealed for calm. He said that his daughter is conscious, but on life-support.
“My daughter is strong, she will survive. She is conscious now,” he said.
Activists say that India’s laws concerning sexual assault are out of date, and that politicians’ insistence that the majority of rape cases involve consensual sex isn’t helping. The Indian government has suggested that the way to address the country’s rape problem would be to lower the legal marriage age, currently 18 for women and 21 for men.
The students and other protesters who took to the streets over the weekend insist that this is a sign that rape and the rights of women are not taken seriously in their culture. Many rape cases, they say, go unpunished and unreported due to familial and social pressure on the victims.
India’s government said in a separate statement on Monday that they are appointing a legal panel to further investigate the issue with an eye toward amendments of existing criminal laws which would speed trials and stiffen penalties in cases of sexual assault. The committee will produce its report in 30 days.
Watch raw video of the protests, embedded below via Russia Today: