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Change is only way to honour victim in India

Clear policies of law enforcement and sentencing for crimes against women are the best way to remember the victim of the Delhi bus attack.

The death early yesterday in Singapore of a 23-year-old Indian woman who had been gang raped and brutalised in Delhi is cause for sadness, condolences, reflection - and decisive action. Indians who protested, peacefully for the most part, across the country yesterday demanded no less.

While the attack occurred two weeks ago, and has been the subject of intense media attention, there remains a sense of disbelief. The stark brutality of the attack on the young woman and her friend on that bus on December 16 will haunt the collective consciousness for years to come.

Today, we grieve a young woman, a physiotherapy student who had told her mother after the attack that she wanted to live. But Indians know this barbarity, although extreme, is no isolated incident in a society that has struggled to come to terms with violence against women and harassment that is disingenuously brushed off as "Eve teasing".

The catalogue of errors in dealing with this case is symptomatic of government bumbling on women's safety in general. In particular, the misinformation propagated after the attack is disturbing. Indians and the rest of the world were told that the young woman was recovering well when, in fact, her injuries were so severe that she, perhaps belatedly, had to be medevacked to a Singaporean hospital. Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has been implicated in an imbroglio involving an apparent cover up of the fact that the bus in question did not have proper operating permits. Ms Dikshit was shouted down when she tried to address protesters yesterday.

Yet New Delhi is right to call for calm as the country searches for a solution. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pledged to channel the anger "into a constructive course of action". He must do so. The violence during some of the recent protests has been a discredit to all.

In the midst of tragedy, there is a very real risk of overreaction. The ministry of home affairs has announced plans to publish an internet registry of sex offenders. This may sound like a sensible strategy of name and shame, but it also risks a form of "street justice" that India could ill afford. When the country's already volatile sectarian mix is considered, lawmakers should take pause - it is far to likely that individual crimes could spark communal recriminations.

Rather, this young woman would be remembered best by clear policies of law enforcement and sentencing for crimes against women, as well as protection and support for victims of assault. It may take time, but Indian women will not be relegated to second-class status any longer. The ugly attitudes towards women that infect society - that are starkly clear after this assault - must be addressed in a coherent, transparent and accountable way.

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