Mass protests for the third straight day on Sunday against the gang rape of a young woman turned violent here, leaving dozens injured and turning the India Gate area into a virtual war zone. Police and paramilitary personnel liberally used batons and teargas to chase away thousands after the emotionally charged protests during the day descended into chaos by evening.
Mobs uprooted wooden poles erected for the January 26 Republic Day event and set them on fire, upturned vehicles and hurled stones and water bottles on policemen in response to teargas and baton attacks. Ambulances with wailing sirens took away the injured to hospitals.
By night, roads in the area were littered with sandals, shoes, books, hand-held banners, bags and water bottles, left behind by those who fled the protest site in panic. Special commissioner of police Dharmendra Kumar urged all protesters to head home as security forces cleared street after street once darkness set in. “The movement has been taken over by hooligans,” he said. “We want people to go home so that we can isolate the hooligans.” Although a large number dispersed from the area, which includes the stately Hyderabad House which Russian President Vladimir Putin would visit on Monday, a few hundred remained rooted near India Gate, a World War I monument flanked by lush green lawns.
Several protesters — the number estimated at 50 — were injured in the earlier police action. A police constable was reportedly seriously injured in stoning. The political class appeared shaken by the mass and largely spontaneous protests. Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj urged the government to call a meeting of all political parties to discuss the December 16 rape. Congress president Sonia Gandhi told a group of men and women — her second meeting with protesters — that the rapists would be tried quickly and also charged with attempt to murder.
Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit appealed for calm. Earlier in the day, thousands of young men and women engulfed the India Gate area shouting “We want justice!” and demanding death to the five men and a boy who raped the 23-year-old in a moving bus on December 16 night. A week later, the woman remains in critical condition. Bouts of violence took place during the day too, but the mass of demonstrators remained peaceful — but angry. Many waved Indian flags, and some gave fiery speeches.
Unlike Saturday’s equally massive protests, many middle-aged also poured in Sunday, urging the government to amend laws so that rapists get heavier punishment. “We hope these protests wake up the government,” said Rakesh Kumar, a businessman in south Delhi who was at the site with his wife and two young daughters. Pallavi, a 25-year-old working for a multinational, said: “The government is sleeping… The law against rape must be stronger and should be implemented properly.” To prevent a repeat of Saturday’s events when people tried to march to Rashtrapati Bhavan, police barricaded all the roads leading to the place and government offices close by including the Prime Minister’s Office. Prohibitory orders banning the assembly of five or more people were clamped. Sunday’s protests also drew political activists. But most appeared to be people with no particular affiliation.
Amid all this, yoga guru Ramdev reached the Jantar Mantar protest site also in the city centre standing atop a bus. Later, many of his supporters made their way to India Gate shouting slogans. He demanded death sentence for the December 16 rapists. Also on Sunday, a large crowd gathered outside the Safdarjung Hospital in solidarity with the rape victim. A group of children held placards seeking capital punishment for the rapists