After the rape and murder of a female veterinarian last month in India’s IT hub of Hyderabad that sparked massive protests across the country, about 500 petitions were set up on website Change.org with millions of signatures in the last two weeks demanding safe streets, helplines, justice and sensitive police.
Students, activists and the mother of a 23-year-old student who was gang raped and killed on a bus in New Delhi in 2012, joined the rising number of petitioners calling for action from authorities, from local police to the prime minister.
Among them is 24-year-old Aila Bandagi Kandlakunta, whose first thought was: “It has happened again”.
“Unfortunately, we need something like this (the rape) to shake us to seek change,” Kandlakunta, who commuted on the stretch where the rape was committed, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
She said every time the media reported such crimes, people called for the death penalty for those responsible.
“But no one addresses the basic issues that are a threat to women’s safety on streets on a daily basis,” said Kandlakunta, who petitioned to “light up Hyderabad” with more street lights and ensuring pedestrian safety.
Massive protests were reported in several parts of India after the charred body of a veterinarian was found near Hyderabad last month.
Days later, a 23-year-old rape victim died in a hospital in New Delhi after she was set on fire by a gang of men, including her alleged rapist.
Instances of brutal rape and violence against women who report it have given India the reputation of being one of the worst places to be female, coming first in a Thomson Reuters Foundation 2018 survey on the most dangerous nations for women.
India recorded more than 32,500 cases of rape in 2017, about 90 a day, according to the most recent government data.
But Indian courts dealt with about 18,300 rape cases, with more than 127,800 cases pending at the end of 2017.
“You can tell the mood of the nation just by looking at the recent petitions tab on our homepage,” said NidaHasan, country director, Change.org India.
“Change.org recorded about 500 petitions following the Hyderabad vet’s rape and murder with over 1.5 million signatures on the top five petitions,” she said.
Seven years after her daughter was gang raped and murdered on a bus in New Delhi, a crime that led to national outrage, Asha Devi on Thursday started an online petition seeking speedy trials of cases of crimes against women.
“I know what all these victims’ families are going through … I want the government to know that we are not alone,” she said in her petition that garnered over 80,000 signatures within hours of it going online on Change.org.
Four men who were convicted for Asha Devi’s daughter’s rape and murder are on death row pending appeals.
Another petition by Instagram influencer Saloni Chopra asked authorities to ensure Nirbhaya funds – a government fund named after Asha Devi’s daughter – were used to beef up security.
“This shouldn’t be an event that we just forget and move on from, till the next brutal gang rape,” wrote Chopra in her petition. “That girl could’ve been me.”
Among the success stories of previous Change.org petitions are those that have led to promises of safer streets in Delhi, removal of plastic cups by a national airline, and promises to make a girl’s character stronger in a children’s cartoon show.
A petition following the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in Kashmir in 2018 – that also led to widespread protests – had nearly 2 million signatures, becoming the biggest petition in the website’s India history. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)