Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday appealed for calm and vowed to protect women as police struggled to quell increasing outrage over sex crimes, following the gang rape of a student.
With much of central Delhi sealed off after a wave of violent protests, Singh said he understood the public’s anger at the “monstrous crime,” but added that “violence will serve no purpose.”
“There is genuine and justified anger and anguish at this ghastly incident,” Singh said in a televised address. “I feel deeply sad at the turn of events leading to clashes between protesters and police forces. I assure you that we will make all possible efforts to ensure security and safety to all women in this country.”
“As a father of three daughters myself, I feel as strongly as you. We will ensure justice is delivered,” he added.
His pleas for calm were echoed by the victim’s father.
“Please pray for my daughter and do not not resort to any violent activity. She needs your support and your prayers,” the father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the Hindi-language News 24 network. “My daughter is fighting for her life, but she is very strong and has a strong will to live.”
Protests have been taking place across India over the past week to denounce the police and government over the gang rape of the 23-year-old student in the capital and the surge of violence against women.
Official figures show that 228,650 of the 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year were against women, with the number of rapes in the capital rising 17 percent to 661 this year.
The biggest protests were in New Delhi on Saturday, prompting police to cordon off areas around government buildings.
However, fresh clashes erupted on Sunday and police said more than 100 people were injured, including 60 policemen. The clampdown was further tightened yesterday, with commuters having to make lengthy detours to get to work.
The situation has been exacerbated by extra security already planned for the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The venue for a signing ceremony and press conference with Putin and Singh has been shifted.
“No one will be allowed to march towards the parliament or the president’s palace,” New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said. “We know people will face problems because of the road blocks, but we have to stop the protests. This just cannot go on.”
A TV journalist was shot dead in the northeastern town of Imphal on Sunday by police trying to control a protest over the attempted rape of an actress whose attacker remains at large. Five police have been suspended over the shooting, the Press Trust of India reported.
Police have said some of the Delhi demonstrations have been “hijacked by hooligans,” while Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said yesterday that certain “political elements” had instigated the violence, without giving details.
While many of the protesters have been women carrying placards, the crowds have drawn increasing numbers of young men who have been hurling stones at security forces. They have responded with tear gas and water cannons.