What's changed in India

What's changed in India
Demonstrators holding a candlelight vigil last Friday after four men were sentenced to death in New Delhi for raping and murdering a 23-year-old student in December.

INDIA - "Are you being harassed? Don't bear it silently. Call the Delhi police", say signs posted outside a posh shopping mall in Saket in south Delhi.

The mall is the same one where a 23-year-old physiotherapy student watched a movie with a friend on Dec 16 before boarding a bus where six men raped her brutally. Two weeks later, she died from massive internal injuries at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.

On Friday, a Delhi court sentenced Mukesh Singh, 26, Pawan Gupta, 19, Vinay Sharma, 20 and Akshay Thakur, 28, to death for subjecting the victim to "inhuman acts of torture". A fifth suspect, Ram Singh, hanged himself in his prison cell in March, and a juvenile is serving a three-year sentence in a reform home for his part in the horrific incident.

The Saket mall posters were not put up until after the brutal crime. While it is doubtful they would have prevented the horrific crime even if they had been there earlier, they are a dramatic sign of the times: the nation has finally acknowledged the dangers faced by women in India.

"After Dec 16, for the first time in history of independent India, the entire country and Parliament debated the safety of women," says Ms Annie Raja, a social activist with the National Federation of Indian Women. She noted that "more women are coming out and saying this has happened to me and 'I want justice'."

Indeed, the crime ignited such rage that some people handed out sweets in the streets to celebrate the death sentence and the English-language Hindustan Times headline screamed "Showed no mercy, got no mercy".

Indian rights groups and others, however, voiced dismay yesterday, saying death sentences were unlikely to reverse the country's "rape crisis".

Ms Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women's Association said the death penalty was hardly going to serve as a deterrent and was taking focus away from on crucial issues like better policing, setting up rape crisis centres and fighting a culture where the blame falls on the rape victim.

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