New Delhi : The government on Saturday faced the full blast of youth power as young men and women laid siege around Raisina Hill, the seat of power, demanding justice for a 23-year-old gangrape victim, forcing police to use canes, tear gas and water cannons on the undeterred crowd of thousands.
The aggression of the youngsters and the mass outpouring since early Saturday morning, led Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ask Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to ensure that people feel safe in Delhi and incidents like the brutal gangrape of the physiotherapist are not repeated. Shinde met Manmohan Singh and briefed him about the measures taken by his ministry to ensure safety of women in the national capital.
The young woman recorded her statement to the magistrate about last Sunday night when she was tortured and brutally raped by six men and then stripped, robbed and thrown off a moving bus alongwith her boyfriend on the roadside.
Doctors at Safdarjung Hospital, where the woman is being treated, said that she has shown some “improvement” and that she is “psychologically stable, optimistic and hopes to having a good future”.
The day belonged to the youth, especially women. The country’s highest seat of power was turned into a virtual battlefield as thousands of furious and determined youngsters marched towards Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president’s house, raising slogans and demanding justice for the gangrape victim and tougher laws against rapists.
While the entire stretch of about 2.5 km from India Gate to Raisina Hill was packed with protesters, the fury towards authorities was palpable miles away. The numbers kept on swelling as all roads literally led to the president’s house in an unprecedented protest rarely seen earlier.
The mass outpouring for the young woman even overwhelmed the securitymen,
who found themselves outnumbered. Matters came to a head when the protesters tried a repeat of Friday when a large number of people tried to enter Rashtrapati Bhavan.
But despite the police barricades, the surging crowd kept pushing ahead.
The police then resorted to caning, threw tear gas shells and sprayed the crowd with water in the winter chill. Police resorted to canning at least three times.
The sight of police chasing youngsters and beating them with canes, aired live by television channels, led to widespread condemnation.
It, however, failed to dampen the spirit of the young, some of whom resorted to violence and pelted stones and damaged public and police buses. The women hit back at the police, hurling their bangles, water bottles, coins and slippers.
Armed with banners, posters, placards, the crowd, which stayed put at the entire stretch from morning till late evening, raised slogans like “We want justice”. Many of them climbed atop police buses and waved the tri-colour.
In a unique way of protest, many young girls and boys climbed the flagpoles that dot Rajpath, which leads to India Gate, the memorial of the unknown soldiers.
“They can try their best to stop us but lets’ see who gives up first,” said a fuming Shikha Verma, a Delhi University student.
But Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy said “agitation is not the solution” and “when they defy law and order, government has to use force”.
Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh said “Government is hearing them (the protesters) loud and clear.”
He added that there were attempts to break barricades in the sensitive area close to the president’s house and other key government offices.
The BJP and the Left supported the agitators and said the government should take action.
“If the prime minister can address the nation on the issue of FDI retail, why can’t he find time to do so when such horrendous crimes against women are taking place,” Communist Party of India leader D.Raja said.
BJP leader Advani, who called up Shinde, told him that there was need to appreciate the concern of the protesters and their anger was justified.
In many neighbourhoods in the capital, people took out protest rallies.
Protests were also witnessed in Kanpur, Jhansi, Lucknow, Meerut and Kolkata.