Police in Delhi yesterday used water cannon, tear gas and baton charges to disperse crowds of demonstrators protesting over the gang-rape of a student which has outraged the country.
The protesters, many of them students chanting "we want justice", had gathered close to government ministries in the capital and had tried to push their way past barricades towards the official residence of the President. Police said they were trying to avoid hurting anyone but that they were obliged to protect the high-security zone.
Several thousand protesters had gathered following a week of mounting anger after a 23-year-old female paramedical student and a male colleague were severely beaten and the young woman raped by a gang of men driving around the city in a bus. Though rape and sexual assaults occur frequently in Delhi and other parts of northern India, the savage nature of the attack, which has left the woman in hospital in a critical condition, has triggered widespread outrage.
Among those taking part in yesterday's protests were a mother and daughter, Kalpana Permar, 19, and Monica Singh, 48, from the state of Uttar Pradesh. Mrs Singh said the last time she had joined a demonstration was in the aftermath of the 1978 murder of sister and brother Geeta and Sanjay Chopra, before which Geeta was raped.
"At that time I was a teenager but now I have come to support my daughter at this protest," said Mrs Singh. Her daughter, a philosophy student at Delhi University, said she had joined the demonstrations because of the nature of the attack. "This is not just a rape. It is a crime that has happened in our country. It is very shameful," she said.
Another protester, Shilip Yadav, said few women felt safe in Delhi. "Not at all. Not even 1 per cent. Not in the morning, not in the evening. Even though this is the national capital," said the 21-year-old student.
Protesters who had gathered at the bottom of Raisina Hill, where many government ministries are located, said they wanted the protest to be peaceful. But as the day drew on there were clashes with police, and several people were reportedly injured. Some protesters threw stones, rubber flip-flops and plastic bottles.
But the anger seemed targeted more at the government than the police. Demonstrators have been demanding fast-track courts, tougher laws and leadership from politicians. "We want a safe city," said another student, Shuchi Gupta.
The government has been accused of being slow to respond to the protests, which grew in the aftermath of last Sunday's attack, which ended with the woman and her friend dumped naked by the roadside.
The government said on Friday that it was seeking life imprisonment for the assailants. Many protesters, however, have been demanding the death penalty for the five suspects arrested and the sixth alleged attacker who remains at large.
The main opposition has demanded a change to the law, prescribing the death penalty for rape. Last night, the office of the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, said new measures had been agreed to protect women in the capital.
Many protesters were angry that no one from the government came to meet with them. According to the Associated Press, C P N Singh, a junior minister in the home ministry, told reporters that the government had urged protesters not to damage property. "The government is hearing you and taking steps necessary to ensure the safety of women," Mr Singh said.
Doctors treating the victim, from the state of Uttar Pradesh, said they had never seen injuries so severe from such an attack. She has had to have part of her intestine removed because doctors were fearful of the threat of gangrene.
The victim and her companion were attacked after getting on a private bus, thinking it was a normal vehicle, after a visit to the cinema. Police have said the men on the bus, many of whom come from a slum in the south of the city, gang-raped the woman and beat her and her companion with iron rods as the bus drove through the city for hours. Adding to the public horror, it was later revealed the bus had driven through several police check-points.