January 11, 2013

Students mourn Indian rape victim

University students joined members of the Chicago community in Millennium Park last Friday to hold a candlelight vigil in memory of the woman who died after being gang-raped by six men in New Delhi, India on December 29.

The group of approximately 50 people was composed of students from UChicago and Northwestern as well as working professionals and members of advocacy groups. The majority of them were of Indian descent, according to Gunner Hamlyn, a graduate student at the Harris School of Public Policy and an attendee of the vigil.

“The fact that she was a 23-year-old, middle class student made her representative of the Indian youth itself. She was one of us in a way,” said Aman Chitkara, another Harris graduate student and one of the organizers of the vigil.

The atmosphere of the event, Hamlyn said, was somber.

“It was reserved and the emotions were specific and targeted. It seemed like a much more thoughtful kind of movement than just simply showing up to a place, carrying some signs, and shouting,” he said.

Chitkara, who helped organize the vigil, wanted the event to play out as a forum regarding the issues of sexual violence and rape in India.

He passed out a list of recommendations he compiled to send to the Justice Verma Committee, a council currently working to amend existing Indian laws regarding this subject. The list included items such as broadening the definition of rape to include all forms of sexual assault and providing counseling and rehabilitation for survivors of sexual assault.

“I believe the only way to get things done now is to maintain pressure on the legislative and judicial bodies. We must keep the visibility and keep voicing the issue,” Chitkara said.

He added that open dialogue is necessary to adequately address the complexity of the issue.

“It’s not only a governmental issue. It’s much deeper than that, as it’s societal in nature. The only way that you can address these issues rather than stigmatizing it or calling it ‘taboo,’ you have to come out and just talk about these things.”