Indian police yesterday baton-charged, tear-gassed and fired water cannon at demonstrators who were demanding improved safety for women following the gang-rape of a student last weekend.
Thousands of protesters, who rallied at the India Gate monument in the heart of the capital and surged toward the president’s palace, were calling for stepped-up security for women across the country.
Angry protesters, demonstrating for a sixth day, shouted: “We want justice” as police struggled to control the crowd, with the 23-year-old victim still battling for her life in a local hospital.
Some carried banners that read: “Hang them now.”
Six drunk men were joyriding in a bus when they picked up the physiotherapy student and her 28-year-old male companion.
They took turns raping the woman before throwing the pair off the speeding vehicle.
She was attacked with an iron rod, causing serious intestinal injuries, after being raped in what was the latest in a series of violent assaults on women in the capital.
Yesterday, riot police were called in and routes leading to the protest site were cordoned off to contain the protests in which some of the demonstrators were also seen throwing stones.
Clashes erupted when a group in the crowd, made up mainly of young women and men, tried to break through police barricades and march towards the president’s house.
Doctors at the hospital where the woman was being treated said in a statement that she was in a critical but stable condition..
They described her as “very optimistic and very positive.”
The government, meanwhile, appealed for calm as outrage intensified over last Sunday’s attack on the woman.
“This is not a way to protest. Trying to storm buildings and breaking barricades is not a way to start a dialogue,” Indian Junior Home Minister R.P.N. Singh told India’s CNN-IBN television network. “The government is trying to do whatever it can to take measures and make sure that women are safe in the country.”
The government said on Friday it would press for life sentences for the woman’s six attackers and promised stricter policing. It also promised to pay the victim’s medical bills.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, spokesman for the main national opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said New Delhi “is becoming the rape capital” of India.
The number of rape cases in New Delhi has risen 17 percent from last year to 661 this year, according to government figures. The number of rapes is triple the number reported in India’s financial capital, Mumbai.
Prasad appealed to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “to please respond to the deep sense of pain, agony and concern of the young people.”
Experts say a combination of abusive sexual behavior, a scant fear of the law and India’s creaky judicial system encourage such attacks in the bustling city of 19 million people.
Five of the suspects were arrested soon after the crime and a sixth was detained on Friday.
New Delhi City Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, at a joint news conference with Indian Home Secretary R.K. Singh on Friday, pledged a series of measures to “make Delhi safe,” promising squads of officers would patrol the city, crack down on vehicles with darkened windows and zero in on drunken motorists.
“All hooliganism will be swiftly punished,” the home secretary added.
Hundreds of people kept a vigil outside the hospital where the woman was being treated after several rounds of surgery.
The PTI said she had been taken off a ventilator but showed early signs of infection in a “mixed response.”
Kumar said police would deploy marshals on buses which are commonly used by female commuters.
“The [policing] regime that we are going to put in place will be very, very strict,” the police commissioner said, adding public transport drivers will be forced to carry identity tags.
Singh also said the under-pressure government would take a “view” on the demands by protesters in several Indian cities for mandatory death sentences for rapists.
A parliamentary panel overseeing internal security said it would be meeting this week to review existing laws to deal with sex offenders.
New Delhi’s metro system reserves a carriage in every train for women, while several police stations in university districts have all-female staff to try and stem rising crime against women.