Riot police fired water cannons yesterday at a protest in New Delhi over the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student, as the leader of the ruling Indian National Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, swelled a wave of anger over the attack.
During a screening of the protest live on television, police could be seen hosing down demonstrators after a group of them tried to tear down steel barricades outside the official residence of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.
Clashes erupted between protesters and police at the demonstration, one of a series being held in the capital following Sunday night’s attack on a bus.
The victim, who was thrown off the vehicle after the attack, is in critical condition in hospital. Her male companion was also seriously injured by the attackers.
Four people, including the bus driver, have so far been arrested, while a hunt is ongoing for two other suspects. Three of those arrested appeared in court yesterday and were remanded in custody.
Before the violence broke out, protesters could be seen carrying banners and chanting: “We want equal rights for women.”
One young woman, who described herself as a student at Delhi University, said there had to be a change of attitude among the authorities, who had tried to pin the blame for sex attacks on victims.
“Women are told that if they go out late at night, they will be raped,” the student said in an address to the crowd. “As a woman I want to say that we are also human beings and you need to treat us as human beings. You will need to give us equal rights. It is a question of our fundamental rights ... We want to be able to go out in Delhi at midnight if we want.”
Rape cases in India more than doubled between 1990 and 2008, official data show. Sunday night’s case was the latest in a series of particularly brutal attacks in the capital.
Gandhi, who is India’s most powerful politician, described the attack as a source of shame for the capital after she paid a visit late on Tuesday to the hospital where the victim is being treated.
In a letter to Dikshit, Gandhi said that “such violence and criminality needs not only to be condemned, it calls for a concerted effort to fight it.”
Describing the incident as a “monstrous crime,” Gandhi said it deserved not only universal condemnation, but also the “government’s most urgent attention.”
In a bid to stem the growing anger, Indian Minister of Home Affairs Sushilkumar Shinde said in parliament that there would be an immediate crackdown on buses with tinted glass and heavy curtains — measures that should already be in force.
“They shall be impounded immediately if they [the owners] do not remove them [the tinted glass and curtains]. All buses will be asked to keep their lights on while plying at night in Delhi,” he said.