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A day of protests and flash mobs for India’s movement to halt violence against women

Indian students dance as part of a One Billion Rising rally in New Delhi. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI – Women marched, danced and sang in rallies in several Indian cities Thursday as part of the One Billion Rising campaign to break the cycle of violence in the country, with many saying they could not shake off the memory of the gruesome gang rape of a young New Delhi woman two months ago.

“Something changed forever with the December incident. Women here are no longer using the language of protecting themselves. Today women are saying, ‘What is the society doing to ensure our safety?’ ” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, a women’s advocacy group, as she distributed pink bandannas with One Billion Rising written on it. “We are here for One Billion Rising, but we are also here to celebrate that shift among Indian women.”

Throughout the day, groups of young women and men organized flash mobs across the capital -- in shopping malls under giant red Valentine’s Day hearts, in crowded byways of slums and outside movie halls -- featuring a two-minute dance to a Hindi song titled “Delhi Jaago,” or “Rise Delhi.”

"So many onlookers came up and asked us if we are dancing for the gang-rape victim," said Sakshi Bhalla, 25, who choreographed the dance.

In the evening, in the heart of New Delhi, women chanted slogans such as “Break the bangles” and “Freedom to dance madly” and whistled into the microphones.

Across the street, dozens of demonstrators continued their unbroken protest against the December rape, giving fiery speeches.

Urmi Duggal, an 18-year old political science undergraduate, compared the two protest movements.

“The protest against the gang rape was very angry. It was about changing laws, hanging the rapists and even castrating them,” Duggal said, a white flag saying “Enough” in Hindi sticking out of her bag. “Today’s One Billion Rising is about gaining the self-confidence to say that I am worth fighting for.”

Ironically, Indians got another rude reminder this week about the propensity of the nation's politicians to make insensitive comments about and toward women. When a female journalist asked government minister Vayalar Ravi on Monday about charges of rape against a colleague, Ravi leaned forward and asked her, “Did he do something to you?” Other political officials around him laughed.

Ravi's remarks triggered online fury, and the minister later apologized, saying he was only joking. Many said that his remark may not have sparked the same kind of uproar before the December rape incident.

“The movement in India is very clearly marked now as pre-December gang rape and post-December gang rape,” said Kavita Krishnan, a feminist activist. “One Billion Rising in India gets its energy and special edge from the events of the past two months here.”