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'She lit a flame': India's newspapers send a message over rape death

The powerful front page from the Hindustan Times is just one of many across Delhi newsstands today.

IT TAKES A significant occasion for a newspaper in any region of the world to give up its entire front page for a simple column.

Today’s Sunday Hindustan Times did just that, reflecting India’s mood over the death of a 23-year-old student who spent the past week fighting for her life in a Singapore hospital after a savage sexual assault by six men on a Delhi bus.

The white space of the newspaper is barely filled by a small illustration of a candle and this accompanying text:

She was the entertainer of the household, the perennially smiling one who had her brothers in splits with her jokes at the dinner table. She was the brilliant student who gave tuitions for younger kids when she was 14 to help her lower middle-class parents run their home. But on Saturday her smile froze into sad permanence in the memories of those who knew her, and her brilliance flickered for a final time.
The prayers of a nation proved in vain as the 23-year-old victim of a savage gang rape on a moving Delhi bus lost her long-odds battle to survive at 2.15am IST in Singapore, where she had been flown in a last-ditch attempt to save her.
Earlier, in the 10 days she fought for survival at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, she amazed doctors by her courage.
But all through her short life, she had made the best of what little she had.
She was elder sister to two boys, part of a family that lived in a one-bedroom flat in the outskirts of Delhi. Her father worked as a loader with a private airline at Delhi’s international airport.
The older of the two brothers recalls that one room in the house used to always be full of her students and she would be sitting in the middle, with a smile.
The girl was invariably among the top students in her class, and was determined to earn well and repay her father, who had sold his ancestral land to fund her studies.
Hers was a story of charming ordinariness, of aspiration and hard work, of pleasure in life’s little joys.
She was a fan of ‘Bigg Boss’, and they would watch it daily at 9pm.
She didn’t have the money to visit fancy restaurants but it didn’t matter: she loved her mother’s simple cooking.
She liked to buy clothes and whenever the family had to gift her something, it would be clothes.
An exciting prospect: a dress for her birthday in May, for which the family was saving money.
She would have been working full-time in six months. Her plan was to buy a new phone to replace her four-year-old handset.
Her last days were illuminated by an extraordinary determination to live. A doctor marvelled that even in the ICU, she wanted to change her clothes and do her hair.
She insisted that the tubes be removed from her mouth so that she could testify against her attackers.
She died, but she lit a flame that will burn on.

In other regions, including Patna, the front page was different but the theme was the same:

As memorial vigils and protests against India’s sexual offence laws continue across the country, other newspapers used their front pages to convey a similar message.

The Deccan Chronicle had two separate headlines, both emotive and provocative:

The Sunday Free Press Journal went even further, using the unidentified victim’s public name, Braveheart.

While the Daily News and Analysis Sunday calls the Government “shameful” for locking down the city despite the related protests being peaceful.

Meanwhile, The Times of India is asking readers to sign a pledge, promising (among other things) to “personally treat all women at home and elsewhere with respect and demand the same from others”.

It reads:

The Delhi gang-rape victim succumbed to her injuries at a Singapore hospital on Saturday morning. The death of 23-year-old Nirbhaya (a name given to her by TOI) not only leaves us sad and heightens our sense of outrage, but also makes it important for all of us to focus now on the real reason behind her agony — the lack of respect for women in our patriarchal society. It will be a long and demanding fight within ourselves and with the world outside, but it will be one that genuinely honours the Fearless One. Instead of venting our anger in mindless violence, let us seize the moment to make a collective pledge. Let’s make a pledge that:
  • We will personally treat all women at home and elsewhere with respect and demand the same from others;
  • We will not practice discrimination against women at home and in the workplace and will fight it wherever we see it;
  • We will intervene in whatever way we can when we see a woman being harassed whether verbally or by deeds. In all such cases, we will insist on FIRs being lodged and acted upon;
  • We will not vote for politicians who treat women with disrespect.”

India has a braveheart, a Delhi girl, a catalyst for change.


Earlier: Indian gang-rape victim cremated>

Read: Rape Crisis Centre draws comparison between Dublin and New Delhi >

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