India’s ‘Braveheart’: Will This Symbol of Horror And Hope Change A Nation?

COMMENTARY | The body of the young woman whose gang rape ignited fury, protests, and national reflection on the endemic problem of violent sex crimes against women in India, was cremated on Sunday.

The coffin carrying the 23-year-old’s body arrived at New Delhi’s IGI airport at around 3.30 am on Sunday, after being flown on a specially chartered Air India flight from Singapore.

The victim’s family, who had traveled on the flight, were met at the airport by India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party, The Hindustan Times reports.

From there, the young woman’s body was taken to the family’s home for religious rituals before a police escort took the funeral party to the crematorium.

Sheila Dikshit, Chief elected leader of the city, and junior Home Minister, Ratanjit Pratap Narain Singh, both placed wreaths beside the body before it was cremated, The Guardian reports [via The Press Trust of India news agency.]

As previously reported by The Inquisitr, after the victim’s death, Indian police charged six men allegedly connected to the attack, with murder.

Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said the six suspects will face the death penalty if convicted.

On December 16, the young woman (who was a medical student) and a male friend boarded a bus in Delhi after a cinema outing. Six men on the bus attacked the pair, raping the woman and beating the couple with iron rods — a rod was also inserted into the woman’s body — before they were stripped and thrown off the moving bus.

Airlifted on Thursday to Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth hospital — a transplant specialist facility — the 23-year-old was already in a critical condition. The, as yet, unidentified student incurred brain injuries and massive internal damage and died on Saturday after a 13-day fight to live.

In contrast to the delayed government response to the attack on the student, her subsequent death prompted a swift statement of condolence from the Prime Minister. As reported by The Times of India, it read (in part):

“I want to tell them [the family] and the nation that while she may have lost her battle for life, it is up to us all to ensure that her death will not not have been in vain.”

Previously incendiary protests that swept through New Delhi, Manipur, and other parts of India — that resulted in tear gas and water cannon police response — have now been transformed into reverent gatherings, said Reuters.

A wave of candlelit vigils, prayer meetings, and marches through various centers including Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Kolkata, took place on Saturday night into Sunday, the BBC reports.

In a nation where official figures show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year were against women, with the number of rapes in the capital rising 17 per cent between 2007 and 2011 to 661 this year, intense media coverage of a young woman’s brutalization and death has catalyzed a raising of voices in her homeland.

One of those voices, Ratna Kapur, a Professor of Law, in an article in The Hindu titled “For unshining India, a moment of transformation,” blistered:

“The woman’s brutal rape and murder provides the spark to bring the culture of destructive masculinity, and the pervasiveness of rape and sexual violence in our society to the front and center of the political agenda … the attacks on protesters by the police, and the egregious remarks of innumerable politicians, provide us with little confidence that a thoughtful formula for uprooting such violence will emerge from them.”

Another voice belonged to Bollywood superstar, Shah Rukh Khan. On Saturday, Khan tweeted:

“We couldn’t save you but what a big voice you have, you brave little girl. That voice is telling us that rape is not an aberration, not a mistake.”

He added:

“Rape embodies sexuality as our culture and society has defined it. I am so sorry that I am a part of this society and culture. I am so sorry that I am a man. I promise I will fight with your voice. I will respect women so that I gain my daughter’s respect.”

As noted by The Guardian, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, commented:

“The outrage now should lead to law reform that criminalises all forms of sexual assault, strengthens mechanisms for implementation and accountability, so that the victims are not blamed and humiliated.”

Referred to across a nation as “Braveheart,” “India’s daughter,” and “Amanat” meaning treasure; it remains to be seen whether the horror of a young woman’s unimaginable suffering will become a tipping point for warranted hope.