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Secret cremation for gang-rape victim sparks anger against Indian government

A young woman who died after being gang raped and beaten on a bus in India's capital was cremated Sunday amid an outpouring of anger by Indians demanding greater protection for women.

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Lokesh, an activist with the feminist organization Streemukti Sangathan, said that a few people were seen pelting stones out of frustration but the rest tried to stop them. “I don’t know who they were,” she said, but ... the government was ignoring us and not responding to the protests.”

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That the police wanted to disperse the protests and not simply respond to stray stone pelting became clear when it also attacked media personnel and their vehicles, say observers.

“News channels had declined [a] government request to leave the site and [so] they showered our broadcast vans [with a water hose] to make us leave,” said one journalist on condition of anonymity. Another journalist was injured when a tear gas shell exploded near her. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry later issued an “advisory” asking news channels to show restraint with their reporting, threatening action if they didn’t.

Metro stations in central Delhi were closed for nearly a week. India Gate and Raisina Hill were cordoned off from most traffic. 

“This is how the government handles public protest across India, even firing directly at protestors and killing them,” says political scientist Nivedita Menon. “Be it agitations against nuclear plants or land grabs, this is the language of the government,” she says echoing the views of many Indians as the protest movement has become as much about police repression as it has been about the safety of women.

To quell popular anger 

The government has appointed a special commission designed to give recommendations on how to keep women safe and has made various statements to assuage public anger to little avail. 

“The government didn’t have to take the burden of guilt in this case. It could have shared people’s grief,” says political commentator Ajoy Bose, adding that since the anticorruption protests of 2011 the government has showed it has become scared of demonstrations. “There is a huge disconnect between the government and the people, the government no longer knows how to interact,” he said adding that that, too, has angered Indians.

Barkha Dutt, editor of the NDTV news channel, Tweeted, ”From day one the government needed to (and didn't) show Compassion, Communication and Commonsense. Now their attempts seem forced, puny, insincere.”

Still, say some, directing anger at the government is misplaced. “The protestors are taking the easy way out by blaming government apathy. The state only reflects a deeply misogynistic society – the protestors need to look within, not without,” said columnist Mihir Sharma.

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