Indian gov’t vigilant after violent protests

Indian gov’t vigilant after violent protests

Indian gov’t vigilant after violent protests

An Indian woman (R), part of a group protesting against a gang-rape, argues with the police after they were prevented from marching in New Delhi. Authorities (below) shut down roads in the heart of the capital to end a week of protests. AP Photo

Indian authorities throttled a protest movement in the heart of the capital yesterday, shutting roads and railway stations in an attempt to restore law and order after police fought with protesters enraged by the gang rape of a young woman.

In an unusual televised address, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for calm following the weekend clashes in New Delhi and vowed to punish the rapists for their “monstrous” crime.

Singh’s government, often accused of being out of touch with the aspirations of many Indians, has been caught off-guard by the depth of the popular outrage as protests snowball and spread to other cities.

Instead of channeling the outrage, the government has found itself on the defensive over the use of force against protesters and complaints that it has done little in its eight years in power to create a safer environment for women.

‘Frustration with leadership’

The protests have been the biggest in the capital since 2011 demonstrations against corruption that rocked the government. “People are not reacting to just one rape case. They are reacting to the general malaise, the frustration with the leadership. There is a feeling that the leadership is completely disconnected,” according to political analyst Neerja Chowdhury.

Police barricaded roads leading to India Gate, an imposing Arc de Triomphe-style war memorial in the center of the city that has become a hub for the protests, mostly by college students. Many metro rail stations in fog-shrouded Delhi were also closed, crippling movement around the city of 16 million.
The protests overshadowed an official visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin and disrupted his schedule.

The 23-year-old victim of the Dec. 16 attack, who was beaten, raped for almost an hour and thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi, was still in a critical condition on respiratory support, doctors said. In the weekend spasm of violent protests, police used batons, tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators around the capital. More peaceful protests and candle-light vigils have also taken place in other Indian cities. “I appeal to all concerned citizens to maintain peace and calm. I assure you we will make all possible efforts to ensure the security and safety of women in this country,” Singh said in his televised address to the nation. Singh has been under fire for remaining largely silent since the rape. “As a father of three daughters myself, I feel as strongly as you. We will ensure justice is delivered,” he added.

Sonia Gandhi, chief of the ruling Congress Party, also met some of the protesters to hear their demands.