Sonia Gandhi, president of India’s ruling Congress party, on Sunday condemned “shameful” social attitudes that led to crimes like the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi.
“We cannot tolerate shameful social mindsets that lead to unspeakable atrocities on women and children… every woman in the country has the fundamental right to feel safe and secure,” she said.
Gandhi, seen as the country’s most powerful politician, said the 23-year-old woman, whose ordeal on a bus last month triggered nationwide protests, had tragically become a symbol for thousands of women who suffered a similar fate.
“The barbaric gang-rape of a young woman in the capital has shaken the entire country. People are rightly demanding answers and actions,” Gandhi, 66, said at a meeting of her party in the northern city of Jaipur.
“This brave young woman in many ways embodied the spirit of an aspirational India. We will ensure her death will not have been in vain.”
Sexual crimes against women have been in the spotlight since the physiotherapy student was gang-raped and violated with a rusty iron rod on December 16 as she returned home from a cinema with her boyfriend.
The woman died from her injuries about two weeks after the attack that triggered an outpouring of grief and anger over the failure of the government and the police to check rising crime against women.
Gandhi said there was an urgent need to overhaul patriarchal mindsets and referred to some “shocking” recent statements by politicians that she said reflected a “completely unacceptable” attitude towards women.
A female cabinet member in the state government of Madhya Pradesh said women who crossed “moral limits” deserved to be punished, while a lawmaker in the state of Rajasthan has suggested banning skirts in schools.
The president’s son, a ruling party lawmaker, dismissed protesters demanding protection for women as “painted” women seeking to spark a “pink revolution”.
Five men face murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping and other charges over the student’s death. The case against a sixth suspect, who claims he is 17, will be heard by a juvenile court if it is confirmed he is a minor.