Monday, Jan. 14 — The Michigan State University Indian Students Organization held a candlelight vigil Friday night in honor of an Indian woman who was gang raped and killed in New Delhi last month.
The vigil, with about 30 participants, was in response to an attack by six men against a 23-year-old woman while she was riding a public bus on Dec. 16. The victim was brutally beaten and raped before being thrown from the bus. She later died in a Singapore hospital.
Anusuya Das, a member of the student organization who helped organize the vigil, says that the event was meant to show solidarity and to uphold women's rights and spread awareness of the issue. Indian students and members of the organization met at the International Center on campus and walked with lit candles to “the Rock” where the ceremony was held.
Despite the tragic circumstances of the gathering — and even with the wind blowing out their candles on the walk — the group remained in high spirits as they made their way to the Rock. Once the candles were placed around the Rock, which had been painted with a black circle on a white backdrop, the mood turned to a more somber tone.
“It signifies shame,” Das said, referring to the painting. “This is a shameful, disgraceful episode”.
Shame was a theme echoed during speeches made during the vigil, the word even serving as the title for a poem that was recited for the occasion. The students at the event also stressed that the assault in December was by no means an isolated incident.
“Events like this happen all the time, but for some reason this [incident] was very public, the detail and brutality of everything,” said Priyamvada Kayal. “It's kind of a wake-up call for everybody to know that this is happening all over”.
The event in New Delhi sparked immense protest and public outcry from Indians demanding that justice be carried out on those responsible. Since the incident, there have been numerous demonstrations and protests calling for increased protection for women.
National attitudes toward sexual assault in India have been a topic for some time and the recent events have proven to be a catalyst for discussion in the country, as well as abroad. Students at the vigil expressed a hope that their actions could stimulate a dialogue about the problems that they want to see solved.
As the ceremony drew to a close, Das addressed the crowd with a realistic, yet cautiously optimistic, attitude: “This [vigil] is not going to affect any policy, but the fact that we are all here together today ... it is the beginning of, hopefully, a change.”