The heart of the national capital turned into a battle zone yesterday as thousands massed to denounce the brutal gang rape of a young woman, with clashes between police and protesters leaving many injured.
Outnumbered police and paramilitary personnel fired umpteen tear gas shells and repeatedly used batons to break up emotionally charged crowds screaming “We want justice!” and hurling stones and water bottles.
By late evening, five huge bonfires had been lit near India Gate, a World War I monument whose lawns have been besieged by thousands since a 23-year-old was raped in a moving bus, leaving her battling for life. Witnesses said several people, including security personnel, were injured.
Delhi Police urged protesters to maintain peace saying that hooligans had hijacked their sentiments over the gang rape and assured that a judicial panel would look into the brutal incident.
Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Dharmendra Kumar said protesters voicing concern over the incident should avoid violence and maintain peace. “Some hooligans are trying to turn the agitation violent by hijacking public sentiments. Public must separate themselves from these people. We are not against peaceful protest,” he said.
The officer said that to find out lapses in the gang-rape case, a judicial commission committee would be created under the supervision of the chief justice of India. “A retired Supreme Court judge will look into the case,” Kumar said.
But even as a section of the vast crowd indulged in violence, breaking police barricades and overturning vehicles, the mass of young men and women remained peaceful. Many of them held hand-written posters and waved Indian flags. Some gave fiery speeches.
Unlike Saturday’s equally massive protests, many middle-aged also poured in yesterday, urging the government to amend laws so that rapists get heavier punishment. The violence subsided after some 90 minutes of running battles during which crowds charged at security forces around India Gate and retreated in the face of tear gas and batons. “We hope these protests wake up the government,” said Rakesh Kumar, who was at the site with his wife and two young daughters.
Section 144 enforced
The initial slogans, mainly condemning the December 16 rape, turned anti-police yesterday. Having barricaded all the roads leading to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and government offices closeby, security forces sprayed water and fired tear gas at the crowds demanding death to the rapists.
Prohibitory orders banning the assembly of five or more people were clamped in parts of the city centre in a bid to prevent the demonstrators from marching to the presidential palace or prime minister’s Office. But seeing the mass anger, police later allowed protests at the India Gate area.
Victim on ventilator, platelet count dips
The 23-year-old victim of a brutal gang rape was yesterday put back on the ventilator and her condition remains critical, though she is conscious and communicating. The young woman, who was subjected to savage torture and rape by six men a week ago, underwent a minor surgical procedure where her abdomen was given a “wash” and the fluid that had collected was drained, a team of doctors said in a bulletin on her health condition.
The woman’s platelet condition has dipped further, from 41,000 in the morning to 19,000 in the evening — an indication of infection in her blood. “She now has a platelet count of 19,000... her platelet count is fluctuating, and we gave her two units of platelets,” said a doctor, "And because she was in distress, she is back on ventilation support,” the expert added. The doctors reiterated that the young woman is still in the critical period of health, “the critical period is not over yet”.
The doctors said the woman was given anaesthesia and put on the ventilator before being given the abdomen wash. “We feel it will help improve her condition... We expect improvement, but she continues to be serious and may need further investigations,” the doctor said.
Ramdev slams police action on protesters
Yoga guru Baba Ramdev demanded justice for the gang-rape victim and condemned the police for “brutality” against protesters. Addressing people at Jantar Mantar, Ramdev said, “I condemn police brutality against the peaceful youngsters.”
He demanded death sentence for the rapists and blamed the police for not providing enough security to women on roads. The yoga guru entered the city standing atop a bus. He tried to move towards India Gate, but was stopped by police.
Tear gassed tears will not wash away the tears of anguish.
— Amitabh Bachchan
What is baba Ramdev doing there? It’s just what this protest doesn’t need!
— Farhan Akhtar
Baba Ramdev. Publicity parasite on a well intentioned protest. Inhale and exhale your *** out of there please. It’s a youth movement.
— Vir Das
These are the real Students of the Year... The politicians and the police must learn to listen to them, engage with them.
— Pritish Nandy
Really important for a revolution not to allow it 2 b usurped by elements with agenda of their own. Unruly or otherwise.
— Shekhar Kapur
And now there is astonishment that the india gate protest has been hijacked by political and unsavoury elements. what a surprise.
— Rahul Bose
Over turning cars, arson. Provoking police. Not very peaceful. Protest agenda has been hijacked by the very people we’re supposed to fight.
— Gul Panag
We’re all angry. Justifiably so. But PLEASE don’t succumb to violence! That will just discredit the protests, reduce us to their level!
— Vishal Dadlani
A few mins back there was a ray of hope as our PM opened his mouth for the first time in the day. But, alas, it was only to have dinner.
— Shirish Kunder