More than 250 people descended on Bear Creek Park Sunday for a candlelight vigil in memory of Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student who died after being raped and beaten by five men on a bus in New Delhi last month.
Mourners gathered for several hours to remember Pandey, who was nicknamed Amanat (Prized Possession), Nirbhaya (Fearless) and Damini (Lightening). Her real name, Jyoti, means flame or light, adding to the symbolism of the vigil.
"She lit a flame in millions of hearts and woke up the nation," said Lucky Gill, founder and president of Global Girl Power, the group that organized the vigil. "Everybody's related to her as a daughter, as a sister."
Global Girl Power raises awareness for women's issues around the world and frequently holds events to honour victims of physical and sexual abuse, trafficking, slavery and forced prostitution, among other atrocities. Pandey's victimization has prompted widespread outrage and calls for amendments to how women are treated in India.
"It really brought people together from every single caste, every single religion, every single part of India," said Gill of the worldwide response. "It's not just India's problem, it's a global issue. Girls all over the globe have always been devalued and are constantly being put down."
Pandey boarded a bus with a male friend, not knowing that the bus was being taken for a joyride by six males. The men beat Pandey's male friend unconscious before sexually assaulting her for more than two hours. She died from her injuries.
"If Jyoti had boarded a bus that day with six good men, this never would have happened," said Coun. Barinder Rasode, who attended the vigil. "We need to stand strong, both men and women together, to eliminate this type of behaviour.
It's not a women's issue, it's a societal issue."
While the six men on the bus have been charged with rape and murder, Global Girl Power is calling for the Indian government to follow through on proposed changes. Gill and other group members have penned a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to prevent incidents of rape and violence against women.
"Indian women must feel safe to walk on the streets of their hometown or capital city without threat of being teased, molested, abused, or worse yet, killed, simply because of their gender," reads part of the letter. "Impunity for perpetrators as well as police and judicial apathy must be a matter of grave concern, not just for women but for all citizens."
The letter asks for timely prosecution of all rape cases, comprehensive legislation against all forms of sexual assault and the implementation of "rape shield" laws to protect rape victims from inquiries into their sexual history.
It also asks for an end to immunity granted to police accused of sex crimes and that government-funded medical support be provided to rape victims.
Enclosed with the letter is a petition, which gathered more than 225 signatures just from Sunday's vigil. Gill noted that the youth of India have been very vocal, holding rallies and protests demanding change.
"They don't want to simply put up with what's been happening in the past," she said.
"They're the ones saying enough is enough."
Global Girl Power is currently organizing a public forum for Sunday, Jan. 20 to discuss how communities can work together to help prevent violence against women here and around the world. Visit globalgirlpower.ca.
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