To demand justice for the eight-year-old girl who was gang-raped and murdered in Jammu and Kashmir and the teenager in UP’s Unnao, the Congress party led a candelight vigil to India Gate in New Delhi.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi led a midnight march to the India Gate to protest the rapes of minors in Kathua and Unnao and said it's time for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to walk the talk on 'beti bachao' (save the girl child).
Amid slogans against the Bharatiya Janata Party and the prime minister during the march, Gandhi said the women of the country are afraid to go out today and the government must ensure their safety.
Gandhi was joined by his sister Priyanka and her husband Robert Vadra as also their children, besides scores of Congress leaders, party workers and others, who were seen shouting slogans, carrying candles and some even placards against the BJP governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh and Jammu-Kashmir while demanding urgent action against the perpetrators of two heinous gang rapes -- one in Unnao, UP, and the other in Kathua, J-K.
WATCH: This is a national issue and not a political one, says Rahul at march
"We are here against crimes being committed against women, against rapes, violence and murder and the government must act on this. This is a national issue and not a political one," Gandhi said at the march in the heart of the national capital.
"This is about our women. Thousands are present here including the common people and people from all parties. This situation is such today that one after another incident of murder, rape and violence is taking place in various parts of the country. We are standing here against that and we want the government to act," he said.
Amid slogans being raised against the government at the protest march, Gandhi said the women of the country are afraid to go out today and the government must ensure their safety and help them live in peace.
On the Modi government's 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' initiative, Gandhi said it was the right slogan and the PM must start work on 'Beti Bachao’.
"Today, India's women are afraid of coming out in public. Women and girls are being killed and raped. We want that the government should resolve this issue so that the Indian women can come out on the roads and live a life free of fear.
"This is a national issue and not a political one. It concerns our women. People of all parties, common people and women are here. I only want to say that the government should do something about the plight of women and the crimes against them," he said.
Several people were seen having brought their children as well, but at times, the chaotic crowd appeared getting out of control and Priyanka Vadra was shoved by some, prompting her to ask people to maintain calm and remember the 'cause' for which they had come there.
Her husband Robert Vadra said the country needs a change where women could feel safe.
Some Congress leaders asked the people in the march to keep it a 'silent' protest, even as a few were seen taking selfies as well.
WATCH: Priyanka Gandhi loses her cool when she's shoved during march
The Congress leaders present at the protest march to the India Gate, which in the past has seen a huge protest in the Delhi gang rape case, included Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Salman Khurshid, Ashok Gehlot, Ajay Maken, Sushmita Dev, Haroon Yusuf, Randeep Surjewala and Ambika Soni.
Azad said the Modi government was sleeping and those facing the biggest threat were the daughters of the country during the current regime.
Several Congress leaders also poked fun at the Modi government’s Beti Bachao slogan, saying the daughters were not safe in the country.
Announcing the march, Gandhi had tweeted in the evening, 'Like millions of Indians my heart hurts tonight. India simply cannot continue to treat its women the way it does.'
Earlier in the day, Gandhi had expressed anguish and shock on the brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua, and attacked the BJP government in UP for failing to act against its MLA, who is an accused in the Unnao rape case of a 17-year-old girl.
'How can anyone protect the culprits of such evil? What happened at #Kathua is a crime against humanity. It cannot go unpunished. What have we become if we allow politics to interfere with such unimaginable brutality perpetrated on an innocent child?' he said.
On Friday, Gandhi again hit out at the PM over his ‘silence’ on violence against women and children, saying it was ‘unacceptable’ and India was waiting for him to speak up.
Directly addressing the prime minister on Twitter on Friday, Gandhi also asked why accused rapists and murderers were ‘protected’ by the state.
‘Mr Prime Minister, your silence is unacceptable.
‘1. What do YOU think about the growing violence against women and children?
‘2. Why are accused rapists and murderers protected by the state?
‘India is waiting,’ Gandhi tweeted, using the hashtag ‘SpeakUp’.
Gandhi also thanked ‘thousands of men and women’ who stood with him in protesting the rising acts of violence against girls and women and said their battle for justice would not be in vain.
The Kathua girl, who belonged to the nomadic Bakerwal Muslim community, had disappeared from a spot near her house on January 10. A week later, her body was found in the same area.
A Special Investigation Team, formed to probe the incident, has arrested eight people, including two Special Police Officers and a head constable, who was charged with destroying evidence.
Jammu has been on tenterhooks since the brutal rape and murder. The city’s bar association has opposed the action against the accused and alleged that minority Dogras were being targeted.
Gandhi joined the protest near the Man Singh Road at 11.55 pm.
The police had barricaded all the routes leading to India Gate.
Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president Ajay Maken said, "Atrocities are being committed against women in the country and the government is sleeping. The BJP is not only involved directly, it is also protesting in favour of the culprits and stopping law enforcement agencies from doing their job. It is a sad state of affairs."