New Delhi, April 13: Leading a candlelight vigil at India Gate at midnight in protest against the Unnao and Kathua rape cases, Congress President Rahul Gandhi kept his message for the government short. He asked the government to first protect its daughters before embarking on educating them.  Insisting that it wasn’t a political march, Rahul said, “We want the women to live in peace and security.”

The Congress President was accompanied by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Robert Vadra and their 15-year-old daughter. Former Congress President Sonia Gandhi also attended the march. Scores of Congress workers, led by senior party leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Ashok Gehlot, Ambika Soni, Sushmita Dev, Haroon Yusuf and Ajay Maken, had marched from the party headquarters towards India Gate via Mansingh Road. Speaking during the march, senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “The government is sleeping so at this time the Congress will have to wake them up.”

A large number of people, including members of the public, responded to Gandhi’s call and gathered around the Amar Jawan Jyoti. Prominent among those present were the parents of Nirbhaya who was gang-raped and brutalised in 2012. She had succumbed to internal injuries later.

Rahul had tweeted in the evening, “Like millions of Indians, my heart hurts tonight. India simply cannot treat its women the way it does, he had tweeted, asking others to join him in his protest.

Earlier in the evening, Rahul had tweeted his grief over the gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua. He said it was a crime of unimaginable brutality that couldn’t go unpunished. He also spoke out against the politics being played over the heinous crime. Lashing out against the BJP government in UP for failing to take action on its MLA in the Unnao rape case, he said on Twitter: “How can anyone protect the culprits of such evil?”

All India Mahila Congress President Sushmita Dev was quoted by The Times of India as saying in Lucknow that the party would observe April 17 as Black Day against the “trend” of crimes against women rising in BJP-ruled states.

The Kathua rape victim, who belonged to the nomadic Bakerwal Muslim community, had disappeared from near her house on January 10. Her battered body was discovered a week later. According to the chargesheet against the seven accused, the girl had been abducted and kept confined inside a temple while on a heavy dose of sedatives. There, she was repeatedly raped before being bludgeoned to death. The J&K police had presented a separate chargesheet against the eight accused as he is a juvenile.

Meanwhile, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti assured action and said her government would bring in a law that would award death sentence to those convicted of raping minors. Though the Kathua rape case dates back to January, there has been widespread outrage ever since the chargesheet revealed the details of the crime. The governments of both UP and Jammu & Kashmir have been under Opposition attack for showing laxity in dealing with the cases and bringing the perpetrators to book.