NEW DELHI, Dec 22 – Indian police on Saturday baton-charged, tear-gassed and fired water canon at demonstrators who were demanding better safety for women following the gang-rape of a female student last weekend.,
Thousands of protesters, who rallied at the India Gate monument in the heart of the Indian capital, were calling for stepped-up security for women across the country and changes to the way crimes against women are prosecuted.
Angry protesters, demonstrating for a sixth day, shouted “We want justice” and “Hang the rapists” as police struggled to control the crowd, with the young victim still battling for her life in a New Delhi hospital.
Six drunken men were joyriding on a bus when they picked up the physiotherapy student and her 28-year-old male companion and took turns raping her. Afterwards, they threw the pair off the speeding vehicle.
Police say the woman was attacked with an iron rod after being raped in what was the latest in a series of violent assaults on women in the capital.
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 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.
The government appealed for calm as outrage over the attack on the woman intensified.
“This is not a way to protest. Trying to storm buildings and breaking barricades is not a way to start a dialogue,” 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.”
India’s government, facing growing protests over the gang-rape, vowed on Friday to press for life sentences for the woman’s six attackers and promised stricter policing.
The government also said it would pay the medical bills of the 23-year-old victim, who suffered serious intestinal injuries in the attack last Sunday night.
India’s former army chief V.K. Singh, who joined Saturday’s protest, blamed “systemic failure” for the spate of crimes against women and called for immediate reforms to tackle the problem.
“This problem is because of systemic failure of governance. Police reforms have been lying in cold storage for the last so many years,” he told reporters.
Experts say a combination of abusive sexual behaviour, 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 caught Friday.