Family of India gang-rape victim urge women to speak out on anniversary

NEW DELHI - The fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi shattered India's silence over sexual violence and emboldened some victims to speak out, family members and campaigners said Monday on the anniversary of the attack.

As women gathered across the capital to mark the event, the victim's father said the assault on his daughter on a moving bus on December 16 last year "shook not just us but the entire country and the world".

"We will only say that this date should be celebrated... so that people keep getting inspired and keep joining this movement, coming together to ensure the safety of women," the father told India's NDTV network.

Her mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said her daughter's bravery before her death should continue to motivate Indian women to "fight against such crimes and to raise their voices against such crimes".

The physiotherapy student, 23, suffered a savage sexual assault at the hands of six men, including with an iron rod, after she boarded a private bus while going home from the cinema with a male friend.

She died from her injuries 13 days later.

The brutality of the attack, and her determination to survive so she could report her attackers to police, sparked large-scale and sometimes violent protests as well as soul-searching about India's treatment of women.

The case led to reform of rape and sexual assault laws and shone an international spotlight on what women's groups called a "rape epidemic" in the country.

Four of her attackers were convicted and given the death penalty in September after the case was fast-tracked, while a juvenile was sentenced to a detention centre.

Several hundred students, professionals, activists and others gathered at different places across Delhi for candlelit vigils to remember the victim and press for more reforms and changes in social attitudes to women.

"The government has made some laws, we welcome them. But unless mindsets change, the laws can't be of much help," college student Ishaan Ahmad, 21, told AFP.

Ahmad was among those at a makeshift memorial, decorated with flowers, lamps and candles, built in the city centre shortly after the attack.

While police expect figures to show a rise in the number of reported rapes this year, campaigners say the increase is in fact a welcome indicator of changing attitudes.

"Last year's movement seems to have empowered more people to speak out against sexual violence," Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, told the Indian Express newspaper.

Divya Iyer, a researcher for Amnesty International, agreed that more women were coming forward to report attacks - but said it was a trend largely confined to towns and cities.

"Women have been empowered to speak out since the case and there are more crimes being reported. But you have to look at who are these women, where is this happening?" Iyer told AFP.

She singled out rural areas where women still faced major problems accessing police and judicial services, and where complaints of sexual violence were not properly investigated nor handled sensitively.

"Not only is there social stigma, but there is no guarantee that their complaint of rape will be taken seriously by police, let alone result in a conviction," she said.

The comments came as pressure mounted on a retired Supreme Court judge accused of sexually harassing a law intern.

The woman has claimed the judge harassed her in a hotel room in December last year.

Her affidavit to a three-judge panel set up to look into the allegations was detailed in the Indian Express on Monday.

Asok Kumar Ganguly has denied the allegations but is coming under growing pressure to resign as head of a state human rights body.

The father of the gang-rape victim said although reforms have been introduced to deal better with such crimes, problems still existed, including the time taken to settle cases in India's notoriously slow legal system.

"It is true what happened to my daughter has caused massive changes in the system, but we still feel that it hasn't yet shown its complete impact," he said.

"I really pray to God that something like this never happens again and no one has to go through something like this."

Her mother said she would keep fighting for a tougher penalty for the convicted juvenile, who is serving a maximum three years in detention.

"We still hear her voice, her laugh and talk...we dream of her," she said.