PM addresses nation: As father of three girls, feel the pain

For the second time in less than 24 hours, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday appealed to protesters demanding better safety for women to maintain peace and calm, saying that "as a father of three daughters" himself, he felt as strongly about the rape of the 23-year-old woman last week as anyone else.

"There is a genuine and justified anger and anguish at the ghastly crime of gangrape committed last Sunday in Delhi...My wife, my family and I are all joined in our concern for the young woman who was the victim of this heinous crime. We are constantly monitoring her medical condition. Let us all pray for her and her loved ones during this critical time," Singh said in a televised address.

He had made similar remarks in a statement, posted on his website on Sunday evening, after protesters at India Gate and Raisina Hill had turned violent.

"I also feel deeply sad at the turn of events leading to clashes between protesters and police forces. Anger at this crime is justified but violence will serve no purpose. I appeal to all concerned citizens to maintain peace and calm," Singh said, echoing his Sunday appeal.

"I assure you that we will make all possible efforts to ensure security and safety of women in this country. The home minister has already spoken about the steps being taken. We will examine without delay not only the responses to this terrible crime but also all aspects concerning the safety of women and children and punishment to those who commit these monstrous crimes. Our government will keep you informed of the steps we are taking and the processes we are following," he said.

Singh's wife Gursharan Kaur also condemned the crime and appealed for peace while seeking "stringent" punishment for the culprits.

"We are all very sad at this incident but if they (protests) are conducted in a peaceful manner, they will yield more results...This is a horrible crime...such incident needs to be condemned in the strongest possible way," she said on the sidelines of a function.

The protest continued on Monday as well, although more peacefully, as heavy security near the seat of government ensured that no protester was allowed near India Gate or Parliament complex and North and South Blocks.

Some steps announced by the government over the last few days were also being implemented. A helpline number, 181, was set up for "women in distress". The home ministry convened a meeting of officials from the Delhi Police, New Delhi Municipal Corporation and the Delhi government's transport department, among others, Thursday to discuss ways to strengthen security for women. Chief secretaries and police chiefs of all states have been summoned to Delhi on January 4 to decide on steps to be taken to prevent crime against women.

"The January 4 meeting will discuss the overall scenario of crime against women, particularly rape, and how to check them. We will also discuss how to fast-track the rape cases," home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said in interviews to TV channels.

Shinde also met the chief justice of Delhi High Court and requested him to set up fast-track courts to deal with crime against women, particularly the latest gangrape. The trial is likely to begin January 3 and be held daily.

Delhi's Lieutenant Governor Tejendra Khanna cut short his holiday in the United States and returned to Delhi following a call from Shinde. Shortly after his arrival, Khanna suspended two senior police officers — ACP (Traffic) Mohan Singh Dabas and ACP (PCR) Yad Ram — for dereliction of duty on the day the gangrape took place.

Meanwhile, the three-member panel of jurists constituted Sunday to make recommendations on amending laws to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in sexual assault cases, sought public comments by January 5.

"You will see our action, then you will realise. I will request them (committee members) to give their suggestions as early as possible and we will act upon them," Shinde said.

The home ministry said Delhi police has taken strict action against the transporter whose bus was involved in the crime. All nine permits of the bus owner have been cancelled. It also said the government will soon improve public transport by increasing the number of buses at night. All public transport will have GPS installed to ensure they do not stray from their scheduled routes. It will be ensured that all personnel deployed on public transport carry identification badges and are verified, it said.

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