STORY: India’s Interior Minister, Sushilkumar Shinde said strict action would be taken against violent protesters as authorities restricted the movement in the heart of the capital, shutting roads and railway stations to restore law and order, after police fought pitched battles with protesters enraged by the gang rape of a young woman.
Police barricaded roads leading to India Gate, an imposing Arc de Triomphe-style war memorial in the centre of the city, that has become a hub of the protests by mostly college students. Many metro rail stations in fog-shrouded Delhi were also closed, crippling movement around the city of 16 million.
Shinde said on Monday (December 24) that people are welcome to protest peacefully, however, stringent action will be taken if people take law and order in their hand.
“Protesting peacefully is right of every citizen. From last three days, we had allowed the protesters to demonstrate but action was taken when demonstrators turned violent and some unwanted elements entered the crowd. Our constable was attacked and the constable is seriously injured and is in a critical state,” said Shinde in New Delhi.
He said as part of preventive measures, it is made mandatory for all buses and commercial vehicles to keep light on during night and the buses and autos driven by unverified drivers would be impounded.
“I am going to meet the chief justice to carry out the case in a fast track mode,” said Shinde.
Shinde announced a series of steps to prevent such crimes, saying he has scheduled a meeting with the state Director Generals of Police (DGPs) and state secretaries on January 04 to discuss the action needed to curb such crimes.
The 23-year-old victim of the December 16 attack, who was beaten, raped for almost an hour and thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi, was still in a critical condition on respiratory support, doctors said.
In the weekend spasm of violent protests, police use batons, teargas and water cannon against demonstrators around the capital. Protests have also taken place in other Indian cities but they have been more peaceful.
The ferocity of the protests in the capital, many driven by social media, appear to have caught the government by surprise as calls of “We want safety for woman” and “We want stricter legislation” emerged the sharp voices.
The Indian government had moved to stamp out protests in New Delhi, banning gatherings of more than five people, but still thousands poured into the heart of the capital to vent their anger.
Despite being stopped from protesting in New Delhi, political parties, university students and women’s rights groups have taken to the streets in cities across the nation to criticise the police and government for not doing enough to stem increasing reports of rape in the capital.
Blockading roads and, in some cases, breaking through police barricades to have water cannons fired upon them, they have demanded better protection for girls and women on the streets.
Members of Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) took to streets in eastern Bhubaneswar city in wake of the rape of a girl and lashed the government over their failure to curb such crimes.
“We have demonstrated because of the serious crisis that prevails throughout the country, particularly in Delhi, the demonstrators were beaten by the police and the government of India has not taken any serious step. The demonstrators are demanding hanging of the culprits but the government is delaying. In Odisha, yesterday a rape case occurred and the Odisha government has not taken any step against the culprit. So, we demand immediate step to hang the culprits of both Delhi and Bhubaneswar,” said SUCI member Raghu Nath Das.
In an unusual televised address, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for calm after the weekend clashes in New Delhi and vowed to punish the rapists for their “monstrous” crime.
Singh’s government, often accused by critics of being out of touch with the aspirations of many Indians, has been caught off-guard by the depth of the popular outrage as protests have snowballed and spread to other cities. India is seen as one of the most unsafe places in the world to be a woman.
Instead of channelling the outrage, the government has found itself on the defensive over the use of force against the mostly student protesters in New Delhi and complaints that it has done little to create a safer environment for women.
The protests have been the biggest in the capital since 2011 demonstrations against corruption that rocked the government.
In central Bhopal city, pre-schoolers celebrated Christmas with the theme of ‘Stop the Shame’.
The teachers said, as Santa Claus is the messenger of peace, so they have used this occasion to spread the message of curbing crime against women.
“We believe that Santa is a messenger of peace and through children we are trying to spread this message. We have worn black bands in our hands because we are against such crimes. ‘Stop the Shame’ was the main theme of this function, showing that we are against the Delhi gang rape and such crimes. People must take notice of such things and take further steps to curb such heinous crimes,” said a school teacher, Amrita Mishra.
After the recent gang rape, the authorities have promised better police patrolling to ensure safety for women returning from work and entertainment districts, the installation of GPS on public transport vehicles, more buses at night, and fast-track courts for swift verdicts on cases of rape and sexual assault.
New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India’s major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures.
Most sexual assaults go unreported and unremarked, but the brutality of last week’s attack triggered the biggest protests in the capital since mid-2011 demonstrations against corruption that rocked the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.