The seething outrage over the gruesome gang-rape case spilled on to the Raisina Hill and the entire stretch of Rajpath on Saturday as a large number of youth, in different groups, descended there to knock at the doors of the Head of the State at Rashtrapati Bhavan seeking justice for the victim.
The day-long action that saw unabated agitation and an aggressive response from the Delhi Police, in which 125 tear-gas shells were lobbed and over 35 protesters injured, culminated in a meeting of one of the groups with Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde who assured them of fast-tracking the trial in the case and a “sea-change” in policing through implementation of long-term reforms.
Following waves of protests, in which the young school and college-going youth, comprising a large number of girls, raised slogans and engaged the police, the government relented. A seven-member group comprising five young women met the Home Minister at his residence around 7.15 p.m.. Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had summoned Mr. Shinde and directed him to intervene in the matter.
Despite assurances by the group of a positive government response to their demands, the other sceptical protesters refused to budge from the arena stating they would not leave until a senior government functionary addressed them in person sharing the measures being taken.
It was around 8 a.m. that the youth had started converging at India Gate demanding death penalty for the rapists. As the crowd swelled, it began moving up on Rajpath towards Rashtrapati Bhavan. The police, however, blocked the path of the protesters with barricades and buses parked at the footsteps of Raisina Hills.
Overshooting police anticipation, students and young professionals — who primarily relied on social media and SMS communication to muster support — began screaming their lungs out against what they described was utter complacency and lip service by the government and the police in the matter.
As new groups kept merging with the protesting crowds, their first face-off with the police happened around 11 a.m. To disperse them, the police trained a water-cannon on them and lobbed a volley of tear-gas shells.
What followed was a brief spell of violence by some protesters who targeted police buses, accusing the police of unnecessarily using force on unarmed protesters who included girls and women. On at least six occasions, the police resorted to caning the young protesters, who hurled stones, shoes and water bottles at them in retaliation.
Around 5.30 p.m. when hassled senior police officers were busy negotiating with a group to defuse the prevailing situation and manage the leader-less crowd, the lathi-wielding security personnel in riot-gears again charged at the protesters driving them away.
The protesters again tried to reorganise themselves at the nearby Vijay Chowk where they were attacked again, this time from all the directions. Several of them sustained injuries but they decided to stay put with young girls forming a chain around male counterparts to stall the police advance. Leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party, including Gopal Rai, Manish Sisodia and Kumar Vishwas, who also participated along their supporters, addressed the crowd later in the evening.
“Had the President come out even once and addressed the youth assuring firm action, the protesters would have quietly dispersed …we should not leave this place till our demands are met,” said Mr. Vishwas, drawing a loud cheer.
For their part, the police claimed that 37 of their personnel and around 35 protesters were injured in the action. “In all, 125 tear-gas shells were used. Thirty barricades, six buses, two motorcycles and two government vehicles parked at Vayu Bhawan were damaged. A case of rioting and destruction of public property is being registered at the Parliament Street police station,” said a police officer.