Delhi gangrape shakes Parliament; Jaya Bachchan breaks down, Sushma Swaraj, others seek death penalty

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on Tuesday announced a special task force headed by the union home secretary to look into the safety of women in Delhi, and to take steps to make the capital safer for them as MPs came together in Parliament to express their indignation over the gangrape of a 23-year-old woman on Sunday night.

Several MPs demanded the death penalty for those committing such crimes. Shinde said the gangrape case would be heard by a fast-track court, and promised an inquiry and strict action if any lapses by police were found.

Late on Tuesday evening, Congress president Sonia Gandhi visited Safdarjung hospital and met doctors on duty in the anaesthesia and surgery departments to get an update on the victim's condition. She spent about 15 minutes in the hospital, and spoke to members of the victim's family.

Sonia also wrote to Shinde and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, urging them to take all possible steps to prevent the recurrence of such an incident.

Earlier in the day, the discussion in Rajya Sabha saw an emotional outburst by actor-politician Jaya Bachchan who said she was "terribly disturbed" over the incident, and felt "ashamed" sitting in the House as she was "helpless" for "not being able to do anything".

Bachchan, who broke down while speaking, said the "act of sexual assault should be treated on par with attempt to murder" and demanded that "section 307 of the IPC should be amended to include rape under its purview". She also grilled Shinde, asking if he had made any "announcement saying that you are really sorry that something so shameful has happened in our country and you will take very strict action?"

"I am very worried about the parents of this girl. Everybody will forget what is going to happen to her, but she will remember for the rest of her life. It will be a scar," she said in a choked voice.

The issue was discussed in both Houses with members cutting across party lines expressing serious concern about repeated rape cases in Delhi. Setting the tone, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj made a strong pitch for capital punishment for such crimes while Congress' Girija Vyas said death penalty could lead to the murder of a rape victim.

Speaker Meira Kumar articulated the outrage of the entire House over the "spine-chilling" incident and asked the government to take strong action in the matter. In both Houses, women members took the lead in expressing outrage and demanding action. The Rajya Sabha was adjourned twice and question hour could not take place because the entire opposition wanted to discuss the issue of safety of women in the capital.

Like Swaraj, many members in the Rajya Sabha including the BJP's Najma Heptullah, AIADMK's V Maitreyan and DMK's Vasanthi Stanley demanded death penalty for rapists. "Death penalty is the only punishment we should give," Heptullah said. BJP's Ram Jethmalani created a flutter as he called the Delhi police commissioner the "most notorious criminal" in the city and called for his removal.

"The crime situation in Delhi will not improve, unless you don't remove the most notorious criminal of the city, and that is the present police commissioner in Delhi," he said. The discussion took political overtones on many occasions. BJP's Venkaiah Naidu slammed the government and said that such "shameful" things are happening "under the nose" of the government, when Parliament is in session.

Congress' Renuka Choudhary, who got into a spat with BJP MPs as she was interrupted, said, "I am not here to defend the government.. We will not allow this incident to become a statistic." Calling it a terrible atrocity, she appealed to all women MPs to meet the home minister and the Delhi chief minister to chalk out a plan. BSP chief Mayawati called for strict action against the accused saying "just catching them will not help".

JD (U)'s Shivanand Tiwari linked these incidents to consumer culture and commodification of women in advertisements and films, and said that "item dances" are happening in movies. Bachchan objected to this, as she said, "How can you say that this kind of incidents are happening due to item songs".

Replying to the discussion, Shinde said the government proposes to have the case "tried by a fast-track court, with a request for day-to-day hearing, so that the trial does not linger". Besides, a special task force will be constituted to look into the safety of women in Delhi, taking into consideration suggestions made by members, he added.

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