New Delhi (AFP) – Indian police on Saturday baton-charged, tear-gassed and fired water cannon at demonstrators who were demanding better safety for women following the brutal gang-rape of a student last weekend.
Thousands of protesters, who rallied at the India Gate monument in the heart of the Indian 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 New Delhi 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.
On Saturday, 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 she was in a critical but stable condition and had been removed from a ventilator.
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,” 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. They also promised to pay the victim’s medical bills.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, spokesperson 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 2011 to 661 this year, according to government figures.
Prasad appealed to 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 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.