POLICE in India’s capital used tear gas and water cannons yesterday to push back thousands of people who tried to march to the presidential mansion to protest against the gang rape and brutal beating of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus.
Several protesters suffered injuries when they repeatedly tried to break through steel barricades in a high-security zone in New Delhi. Police fired tear gas and chased the protesters with sticks, and some of the protesters attacked police with stones during sporadic clashes throughout the day.
The see-saw battle became fierce in the evening as a large number of protesters ran toward the nearby parliament building and again targeted police with stones and sticks. Hundreds of police deployed in the area chased them away. The demonstrators later regrouped and lit candles as the dusk fell.
The protesters were demanding the death penalty for all the six suspects who have been arrested by police following the 16 December attack in New Delhi.
Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters that the government would examine this demand expeditiously and announced an official inquiry into last Sunday’s rape attack and to suggest measures to improve safety and security of women.
Shinde said five New Delhi police officers have been suspended for lack of prompt action following the rape attack. He also met a delegation of students and urged them to end their protest.
The attack last Sunday sparked days of protests across the country from women demanding authorities take tougher action to protect them against the daily threat of harassment and violence. On Friday, Indian officials announced a broad campaign to protect women in New Delhi.
VK Singh, a retired Indian army chief, joined the protesters and blamed “political and bureaucratic apathy for crimes against women”. He demanded immediate police reforms to train and arm security forces.
CPN Singh, a junior home minister, appealed to the demonstrators, who were mostly students, to protest peacefully and avoid vandalising government property. “The government is hearing you and taking steps necessary to ensure the safety of women,” Singh told reporters.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, a spokesman for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, however, condemned the police action against the protesters and asked government leaders to talk to them.
The home minister also announced that GPS units will be installed in government buses to prevent them from straying from their allotted routes. Also, bus drivers in New Delhi will be required to display their identification prominently and remove tinting from their windows.
The victim and her companion were attacked after getting a ride on a chartered bus. Police said men on the bus gang-raped the woman and beat her and her companion with iron rods as the bus drove through the city for hours, even passing through police checkpoints. The assailants eventually stripped the pair and dumped them on the side of a road.
The victim is recovering from injuries in a New Delhi government hospital.