India’s government has ordered a special inquiry into the gang-rape of a student which sparked mass protests in the heart of the capital, New Delhi, last week.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who is also the government’s top spokesman, said on Wednesday a retired judge, Usha Mehra, had agreed to head a commission of inquiry.
The inquiry would “identify the lapses if any on the part of the police, or another authority or person that contributed to the occurrence, and fix responsibility for the lapses or negligence”, he said.
Chidambaram also said a separate panel would examine existing legislation and “suggest changes in the laws in order to make punishment for such horrific crimes stiffer”.
The panel will submit its report in 30 days, he added.
“Whatever we do now is intended to demonstrate the government’s serious intent in the matter that we will apprehend and punish the perpetrators, we will try and find out what went wrong… and fix responsibility and amend the laws.”
The gang-rape has sparked huge protests across the country, including New Delhi where thousands, mainly students and youth, gathered in front of the presidential palace demanding swift action from the government.
The government has has been criticised for using force against the mostly student protesters many of whom were severely injured including policemen.
About 200 people took part in a new demonstration on Wednesday on a boulevard in central Delhi – including women and school children – where they shouted anti-government slogans.
Death of policeman
The government decision comes amid huge controversy over the death of a police constable who died after he collapsed during the protest at India Gate monument.
Eight people have been charged in connection with the death of the policeman, but civil society groups say the constable died of heart attack even as post-mortem report is yet to be out.
The 47-year-old police constable, Subash Tomar, was cremated with full state honours on Wednesday.
Rajan Bhagat, the Delhi Police spokesperson, told reporters that the doctors who conducted the post-mortem of the constable said that he had injuries on his stomach, chest and neck, though they are awaiting the report.
“Post-mortem report will only tell the cause of death and before we get the report, any comment on cause of death will be premature.
Meanwhile, the Delhi gang-rape victim remains in a critical condition in hospital after suffering horrific injuries during her assault on a bus, which began when she and a male companion were picked up after a night out at the cinema.
The victim suffered enormous intestinal injuries after being assaulted with an iron rod during the 40-minute attack.
All six alleged rapists have now been arrested and remanded in custody.
Women in India face a multitude of threats, from illegal abortions of female foetuses due to a preference for sons, to the murders of brides by in-laws for want of more dowry, child marriage and human trafficking.
National figures show that 228,650 of the 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year were against women, with the number of rapes in the capital rising 17 percent to 661 this year.