Senior police officers at India Gate seemed jittery on Sunday when the lower ranks of the force appeared reluctant to take on belligerent protesters seeking justice for the 23-year-old woman who was gangraped.
They were seen shouting: “Agar police bhaagegi toh unhe kaun bachayega (If policemen run away, who will save them)? Force chal kyun nahi rahi hai... Aage chalo nahi to ye maar daalenge (Why aren’t the forces moving? March ahead, otherwise the mob will lynch you all).”
With repeated orders and motivational gestures of no use, senior officials began noting down names and numbers of those cops who looked reluctant in taking on the crowd. Lady cops were seen saying: “Hey bhagwan, yeh hangama kab khatm hoga (Oh lord, when will this end!)”
The situation along Rajpath — the central thoroughfare leading from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhavan — appeared volatile many a time when cops and security personnel clashed violently amid smoke from tear gas shells and sprays from water cannons.
Skirmishes between protesters and policemen peaked at 2.45pm. An hour later, a senior official reported “heavy brick-batting” to the control room.
Several policemen were injured and were rushed to hospitals. The protesters broke the barricades erected on the lawns for Republic Day, damaged vehicles and even blocked traffic around India Gate and its arterial roads for hours.
Throughout the day, policemen resorted to baton charges, used water cannons and lobbed tear gas shells, but protesters kept coming back at regular intervals. It was only after 5pm that the police cleared the entire area of protesters.
“This is so very wrong. You can’t do this (attacking cops). A perception has been created that the police are supporting the rapists which is highly absurd. If the country starts hanging every rape accused, there will be complete anarchy,” said a top police officer.
“The police are not against peaceful protests, but we can't let mob torch installations as important as Rashtrapati Bhavan. There’s a protocol. You just can't barge in and meet the home minister or the prime minister. The crowd pelts us with stones. Nobody reports that,” he said.
Police personnel were seen requesting the protesters to either go to Ramlila Maidan or Jantar Mantar to protest.