NEW DELHI – Hundreds of people, mostly students, marched through the streets of the Indian capital on Saturday demanding prompt implementation of a government panel's recommendation that India strictly enforce sexual assault laws, commit to holding speedy rape trials and change the antiquated penal code to protect women.
"Freedom for Women," the protesters chanted as they marched to Jantar Mantar, the main area for protests close to India's parliament in New Delhi. The march was organized by the All India Students Association and several other groups.
The government set up the panel in response to last month's gang rape and killing of a physiotherapy student on a New Delhi bus, which triggered massive protests across India blaming the government for failure to control crimes against women.
India's president also lent support to the women's demands, saying "If today young Indians feel outraged, can we blame our youth?"
"It is time for the nation to reset its moral compass," President Pranab Mukherjee said in a speech carried live on radio and television on Friday on the eve of India's Republic Day.
Gitanjali, a 38-year-old social development professional, said she joined the march because it was a way to show overwhelming support for women. She uses one name.
The panel, headed by retired Chief Justice J.S. Verma, issued its findings Wednesday after considering more than 80,000 suggestions for a complete overhaul in the criminal justice system's treatment of violence against women. The suggestions included banning a traumatic vaginal exam of rape victims and ending political interference in sex crime cases.
On Thursday, a fast-track courted started trial of five men charged with attacking the 23-year-old woman and a male friend on a bus as it was driven through the streets of India's capital. The woman was raped and assaulted with a metal bar on Dec. 16 and eventually died of her injuries. If convicted, they face death penalty.
A separate court will decide next week if a sixth suspect in the case is a juvenile.
The panel recommended to the government that police and other officials should be punished if they fail to act against crimes against women.
It called for a crackdown on dowry payments to enhance women's status, since families are often forced into massive debt to get their daughters married. It also suggested the government appoint more judges to lessen the backlog of cases and ensure swift justice, and it called for updating the law to include crimes such as voyeurism and stalking.