Congress president Rahul Gandhi led a “silent march” in Delhi on Thursday night to protest the gang rape and murder of a child in Jammu and Kashmir and a teenager’s allegation of rape against a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker in Uttar Pradesh.
“Women in India are scared to step out of their homes. The government should ensure that the women of India feel safe. This is a national issue and not a political one,” said Gandhi as Congress leaders and workers marched towards India Gate before police dispersed them.
“Join me in a silent, peaceful, candlelight vigil at India Gate at midnight tonight to protest this violence and demand justice,” he said in a tweet before the protest. His tweets made no mention of the BJP, but Congress leaders accused the Narendra Modi government of shielding rapists.
“Conscience of India is outraged by the BJP’s protection of rapists. The government’s slogan of “beti bachao (save the girl child) ” has turned into “betion ko BJP se bachaon,” said Congress leader Randeep Surjewala.
“The government is sleeping and so at this time Congress will have to wake them up. The PM had given a slogan ‘beti Padhao, beti bachao’ and it’s in his regime that our girls are being raped. He isn’t taking action against his ministers who are trying to save the rape accused,” said Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
The Congress was protesting the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu’s Kathua district. The child was held captive inside a Hindu temple, tortured and killed allegedly because the accused wanted to scare away the nomadic Muslim Bakarwal community. Thousands of members of a radical Hindu group with links to the ruling party have marched to demand the release of the seven men accused in the case. Hundreds of Hindu lawyers also protested that the accused, two of them police officers, are innocent.
The Congress also accused the BJP of shielding Uttar Pradesh legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who on Thursday was formally charged with raping a 17-year-old girl in Unnao district. The case sparked new headlines after the girl’s father on Monday died of injuries reportedly sustained while in police custody. The state’s BJP government on Thursday announced that the Central Bureau of Investigation will handle the case and decide if Sengar should be arrested.
BJP spokesperson Vaibhav Aggarwal, while speaking to TV news channel NDTV, dismissed the Congress’s midnight protest and called it a “fashion walk”.
Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, senior party leaders Salman Khurshid, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Kapil Sibal, Ashok Gehlot and Ambika Soni took part in the protest.