* Armed forces ordered to cancel parties
* Clubs call off celebrations, vigils planned
* Government promises tough new laws
NEW DELHI, Dec 31 (Reuters) - India's armed forces cancelled
New Year's Eve parties on Monday, reflecting the sombre mood
across the country after the gang rape and murder of a student
that triggered an international outcry.
High-end clubs, politicians and ordinary Indians also called
off celebrations as a mark of respect for the 23-year-old woman
who died on Saturday two weeks after her brutal assault.
The attack prompted protests and a national debate that
revealed deep fissures in Indian society, where staunchly
patriarchal views about women clash with a fast-modernising
Authorities clamped down on demonstrations in the heart of
the city before Christmas, but hundreds of people gathered for
vigils on Monday night and more events were planned across the
The army, navy and air force were ordered to cancel any
parties, said a defence ministry spokesman.
"There is no New Year celebration ... There will be a
candlelight tribute at 6 pm. After that the club will be
closed," said Rajiv Hora, secretary of the Delhi Golf Club in
the centre of the capital.
The Press Club of India and the ruling Congress Party also
cancelled parties as did the Gymkhana Club, a private members'
organisation known for its lavish end-of-year celebrations.
The Dec. 16 attack highlighted an epidemic of violence
against women in India, where one rape is reported on average
every 20 minutes.
"We are extremely concerned about the number of rape cases
throughout India and the widespread pattern of violence against
women," said Lise Grande, U.N. Resident Coordinator in India.
"It is alarming that too many of these cases are children.
One in three of the rape victims is a child," she added.
The protests over the attack caught authorities by surprise
and forced them to promise tough new laws and swift action to
punish attackers and protect women.
The government has set up two panels headed by retired
judges to recommend measures to ensure women's safety.
"In the New Year, there should be a revision of all laws
related to crimes against women," Sushma Swaraj, a senior leader
from the main Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told a gathering of
supporters in the capital who met to express solidarity with the
"We have asked the government to convene a special session
of parliament where we can discuss the issue," Swaraj added.
A senior Congress party official told Reuters the government
and main opposition parties had agreed there was a need for more
severe punishments for sex offenders.
The Congress party was also discussing the option of
including chemical castration as a penalty in future
legislation, added the official, who asked not to be named.
Police detained five men and one teenager in connection with
the crime, and are likely to press murder charges later this
week. Prosecutors are expected to seek a death sentence for the
India only executes criminals in extreme cases, most
recently Ajmal Kasab, the only gunmen to survive a 2008
commando-style onslaught in Mumbai, who was hanged in November.
(Reporting by Aditya Kalra, Satarupa Bhattacharjya, Arup
Roychoudhury, Suchitra Mohanty and Rajesh Kumar Singh; Writing
by Frank Jack Daniel)