A few thousand anti-rape protesters were greeted at Delhi’s high-powered address, Raisina Hill, with teargas, water cannons and cane on Saturday. More than two dozen people were injured after Delhi Police used force to stop the placard-carrying, slogan-screaming mob from barging towards Rashtrapati Bhavan.
None were spared: Young men and women, middle-aged officegoers, housewives, political activists, senior citizens and even very young schoolchildren. They were protesting the gangrape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student last Sunday night in a moving bus.
This was the largest impromptu public outrage in Delhi over a crime, outdoing ones that followed Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Mattoo’s murders and the Uphaar cinema tragedy.
“The government seems to have turned blind. In spite of such angry crowds, not one responsible person has come to address us,” said Sudha Bhandari, a young executive from the airlines industry. Mocking youngsters threw coins, bangles, notes, sandals and even lipsticks at the police.
After the sixth consecutive day of protest on Saturday, the ‘Hang the Rapist’ march is likely to witness bigger crowds on Sunday, it being a holiday.
On Saturday morning, a fleet named Varun (vehicles fitted with water cannons) and several police vans were waiting for the protesters at Indian democracy's neighbourhood of power Raisina Hill - which hosts the President's house, North Block, South Block and Parliament.
But far from dousing the popular anger, the water cannons served to multiply the outrage. On television and social media, near office watercoolers and at street corners across the nation, people wondered if the government was competent to deal with citizens' protests, and if it was in touch with Young India at all.
As TV screens beamed images of police action 24X7, the crowd swelled. Spontaneous protests broke out in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and other cities, powered by internet and mobile phones.
In Delhi, more and more young people arrived around 5.30pm and took over the Rajpath stretch from India Gate to Vijay Chowk at the foot of Raisina Hill. Baton-wielding cops sought to push them away from Vijay Chowk towards the Rajpath-Rafi Marg intersection.
As chaos broke out again, some protesters damaged DTC buses, vandalised police vehicles, damaged fencing and the seasonal plantation at the Central Vista.
The calmer ones lit candles and stayed put till late night.