The massive protest against the recent gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student turned political and violent at India Gate here on Sunday with the original protesters resisting the attempts to “hijack” the movement. Some of the rowdy elements allegedly manhandled and harassed women present at the spot. Police resorted to baton charge and fired teargas to disperse the unruly crowd.

Amid the peaceful protests by students and theatre groups demanding stern punishment for the rapists and stricter gender-sensitive laws for swift and sure punishment, several groups like the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena, whose member had recently attacked Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashant Bhushan, started turning up in the afternoon.

Vandals ripped apart the tin-sheets and broke the wooden barricades and benches erected for Republic Day crowd control, setting them on fire. By early evening three huge bonfires were visible near India Gate.

The protest saw organisations like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP, and the newly launched political outfit Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal jumping into the fray, which was strongly questioned by the students who have been leading the protest for the past few days.

“Why are political groups hijacking a students’ movement and hurting the cause? I think it’s a really unfortunate turn in the protest which was peaceful expression of public anger,” said Ritika, a student present at India Gate, while expressing her shock at the fact that groups with “vested interests” who want to “hijack” the movement were resorting to violence.

A girl, who was part of the demonstration, alleged that she was harassed and teased by drunken men. “These people were clearly not a part of the protest. When we tried to stop them, they used abusive language. When we asked them to back off, they refused,” she said. “The vandals continued to throw water bottles at the police. There are many of them who are drunk and are teasing women. They have come here just to have some fun.”

Monisha Kaur Sudan, who works on issues related to poverty and hunger, expressed her anger and frustration at the movement turning violent and political. “We do not want politics to creep into this movement. Why have the political parties started hijacking it? These are the same parties who have fielded rapists and criminals as their MLAs and MPs. They do not have any face to come here and talk about women’s safety because every time somebody gets raped, these politicians, with their feudal mindset, blame the victims for provoking rapists into raping them,” she added, flashing a placard which said: “We want unconditional security and safety of women.”

Ms. Sudan said: “I am really disturbed by the turn of events, especially by the fact that since the rowdy elements started coming in the afternoon, violence has gradually increased. I am only scared if the situation goes out of hand which will have disastrous impact on the protest which has been otherwise very peaceful.”

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