While the 23-year-old victim of the horrific gang rape battled for life inside a Delhi hospital, her supporters fought pitched battles with the police near the Vijay Chowk and the India Gate as anger over the incident poured out, severely injuring a Delhi police constable and hundreds of others.
It started in the morning on Sunday with the Union home ministry, which controls the Delhi police, ordering that at least seven metro stations be shut down to prevent protesters from arriving at the India Gate area. But this did little as protesters started moving towards these areas in small groups and slipping past police barricades.
Unlike the protests of the past that are usually contained in Jantar Mantar, an area invisible from Parliament or the seat of the Union government in North and South Blocks, these protests were right where it mattered. The protesters rushed towards the North and South Blocks that house the prime minister’s office and other key ministries.
The police had imposed section 144 and blocked roads. But the protesters kept coming and a brief midnight meet with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi failed to calm the anger. So another meeting took place between a motley group of six protesters and Gandhi and her son and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
According to them Sonia Gandhi appealed to them not to be “emotive but be rational because the government needed time to make systemic changes”. They also promised that fast-track courts would be set up among other measures.
Back on ground zero of the protests pitched battles had begun between the police and the protesters with several places witnessing ugly scenes of mob violence. Some areas saw stone pelting and fires being lit, forcing the police to lathi charge the protesters. By evening they had started pushing the protesters out and ensured that they were kept out of Vijay Chowk and far away from Rashtrapati Bhavan.
“Once people are liberated from the fear of the state, you can’t stop them” is what Kamal Mitra Chenoy, professor at JNU and activist for years had to say as he entered the India Gate area.
The imposition of section 144 provoked all shades of people to reach the centre of Delhi, register their protest and be a part of the historic moment.
Many had been there all night, refusing to leave. Others came in cars, took buses half way and then walked. The spontaneous protests led to several voices asking for more systemic reform.
“[The] protest needs to be channelled into a “teachable moment” for change in social attitudes and serious police/legal reform,” tweeted Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the president of the influential think tank, Centre for Policy Research.
CPM’s Brinda Karat pointed out that the prime minister had largely been absent from the debate and the government had not shown much clarity on the way forward.
Leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj demanded a special session of Parliament that was quickly turned down by the government.
Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit and six of her cabinet ministers met Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to condemn the police action and demanded that the police deployed on VIP security be decreased.
She also pitched for fast-track courts and assured the protesters that this case would be heard daily. By evening, hundreds of protesters had been taken to hospitals with major and minor injuries.