Lutyens’ Delhi turned into a war-zone on Sunday with disparate groups agitating against the gang-rape of a young physiotherapy student. Despite pleas by peaceful protesters, hooligans and political elements, now part of the crowds, battled policemen, damaged vehicles and set ablaze wooden lawn seats. The police used baton-charge, tear-gas and water cannon as protests shifted from Vijay Chowk to India Gate defying prohibitory orders. A large number of protesters, policemen and media persons were injured.
Despite massive deployment of police and para-military personnel and barricading of major roads, protesters belonging to various students’ and social organisations managed to reach the war memorial at India Gate.
Following a brief clash with the police on Rajpath around noon when the protesters also heckled Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit and damaged his car, people in small groups, including Aam Aadmi Party activists led by Arvind Kejriwal, organised sit-ins around the India Gate war memorial close to Hyderabad House.
However, things took an ugly turn late in the afternoon when protesters in large numbers started heading towards Vijay Chowk through the lawns and were met with tear-gas shells, forcing their retreat towards Ashoka Road from where another lathi-wielding police contingent charged them, injuring several persons. What followed was a series of pitched battles as violent protesters stoned the policemen and damaged barricades. They overturned a government vehicle, and at several places burnt down the wooden seats installed along the India Gate lawns for the Republic Day celebrations. They brought down the barricades put up on Rajpath forcing the police to pull back.
Meanwhile, the condition of the 23-year-old victim of gang-rape deteriorated, and doctors put her back on ventilator and conducted an emergency operation on Sunday morning.
Police hit back
At India Gate, protesters — despite repeated requests by fellow protesters not to target the police or destroy public property — took control of two police vehicles and climbed on them shouting anti-government slogans. Some started targeting road signage boards and traffic signals, and pulled down two police canopies.
Having braved several rounds of stone-pelting, the police resorted to the final and the most vigorous assault around 5-30 p.m. caning the protesters from all directions. In that process, the police also targeted those peacefully protesting on the eastern side of the war memorial.
The police beat them and used water cannon including on the battery of media representatives covering the peaceful protest, which resulted in a brief heated exchange between the media personnel and the police. Despite all efforts, protesters in small groups kept engaging the police at several places around India Gate till late in the evening.
Protesters led by Yoga guru Ramdev and former Army chief V.K. Singh clashed with police at Jantar Mantar in the afternoon when they were prevented from marching towards India Gate.
Earlier in the day, Congress president Sonia Gandhi met a group of protesters outside her 10 Janpath residence and assured them that justice to the victim would be delivered. She told the protesters that action would be taken, but did not give any deadline.
Following protests outside her bungalow, Ms. Gandhi had come out on Saturday midnight and met the protesters to placate them.