Hundreds of injured anti-rape protesters and police personnel, roads carpeted with shards of glass, spent tear gas shells, damaged vehicles and lots of anger — India Gate was more a war zone than a war memorial on Sunday, forcing the Prime Minister to call for calm.
“I feel deeply sad at the turn of events leading to clashes between protesters and police forces. I appeal to all concerned citizens to maintain peace and calm,” Manmohan Singh said late on Sunday in his first reaction to the protests against the gangrape of the 23-year-old physiotherapist.
He would take “all possible measures” to ensure safety of women in the country, Singh said, adding the anger and anguish visible in the Capital was “genuine and justified”.
And the anger was all too palpable as protesters and police fought pitched battles through the day. A ban on gatherings, no service at eight Metro stations and numerous traffic diversions —the Delhi Police had the Sunday plan ready, but it all came to naught as protesters found their way to India Gate.
They defied prohibitory orders that were clamped in New Delhi district and police retaliated with cane-charge, tear gas shells and water cannons.
It did little to deter emotionally charged crowds, who kept screaming “We want justice!” By evening, police launched a crackdown, clearing the war memorial and adjoining roads of the protesters. Their final assault left many people, including mediapersons, injured.
Minister of state for home RPN Singh later apologised to the injured but said the police action came due to the violence perpetrated by “lumpen elements”.
“Arson and vandalism resorted to by protesters” forced them to use violence, police said.
Angry protesters damaged more than two dozen government vehicles and pelted the policemen with stones, leaving one constable critically injured.
But largely, protesters remained peaceful and blamed 'unruly elements' and the police for the violence.
In the evening, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit met union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and decided on various measures such as increased patrolling, downsizing of VIP security and fast-track courts.
Earlier in the day, a group of protesters met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who assured them of speedy action in the gangrape case.