Indian President Pranab Mukherjee has said it was time for the country to “reset its moral compass” in the wake of the savage gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student last month.
Speaking on the eve of India’s Republic Day celebrations, Mukherjee called the woman’s death a “grave tragedy” that has shattered the country’s complacency.
“The brutal rape and murder of a young woman, a woman who was symbol of all that new India strives to be, has left our hearts empty and our minds in turmoil,” he said in a nationwide televised address.
“We lost more than a valuable life, we lost a dream. If today young Indians feel outraged, can we blame our youth?”
Five men are on trial in New Delhi for murder and gang rape while a sixth has said he is under 18 and that his case should be heard in juvenile court.
The student, who was studying physiotherapy, was assaulted with an iron rod in the attack that sparked street protests.
She died of massive internal injuries nearly two weeks after the December 16 attack.
“When we brutalise a woman, we wound the soul of our nation,” the president said.
“It is time for the nation to reset its moral compass… We must look deep into our conscience and find out where we have faltered.”
In a wide-ranging speech, he also referred to corruption besetting India’s political scene and the need for economic equality in the country of 1.2 billion people.
Saturday marks Republic Day, the date in 1950 when India’s new constitution came into effect. A special ceremony is to take place in New Delhi with tens of thousands of police deployed across the capital as security is tightened.
Also on Friday, India’s radical Hindu nationalist party governing Mumbai handed out kitchen knives and chili powder to women to be used for self defence, party officials said.
The Shiv Sena party, an ally of the main opposition BJP, said it had handed out 21,000 knives with three-inch (7 cm) blades to women in the city and surrounding areas and plans to distribute 100,000.
“This is a symbolic gesture,” said Shiv Sena spokesman Rahul Narvekar, adding that a knife shorter than six inches in length does not fit the definition of a weapon. The party also handed out small bags of chilli powder, apparently to throw into an attacker’s eyes.
“Don’t be afraid of using this knife if someone attacks you,” Ajay Chaudhari, running the knife campaign, was quoted by the party newspaper, Saamana, as saying.
“We have set up a team of nine advocates to protect you from any potential court cases that may arise.”
Mumbai police said they were examining the knives and considering legal action.