Policemen kept tear gas handy. Water cannons were on standby, too. But relief was writ large on the faces of hundreds of policemen as a two-hour face-off with anti-rape protesters — who despite being angry and agitated did not bring down barricades or break police cordons — ended peacefully on Thursday.
Amid cries of “halla bol” and “azaadi”, a group of protesters, mostly college students, on Thursday marched from Nizamuddin roundabout in south Delhi towards India Gate demanding better safety and security for women and girls.
After an hour, police stopped them at Dr Zakir Hussain Marg-Subramania Bharti Marg crossing where four lines of barriers and policemen separated them from India Gate.
This led to a sit-in on the road at a spot that is a five-minute walk from India Gate. They flashed placards with messages such as “Ignore my lipstick and listen to what I’m telling you” and “We’re dented-painted but we will continue to protest”.
The march came amid prohibitory orders placed in and around India Gate after protests against the gangrape of a 23-year-old woman on December 16 turned violent this weekend.
The protesters demanded removal of Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar, fast-tracking of pending sexual assault cases and a special session of Parliament for enacting strong laws.
The protesters also condemned an allegedly sexist statement made earlier in the day by President Pranab Mukherjee’s son, MP Abhijit Mukherjee.
At 2.15pm, protesters began the march amid sloganeering, drumbeats and flashing of placards. An elderly woman teacher, Anita Gahai, was seen on an electronic wheelchair with a placard in her hands. At 2.52pm, they were stopped.
A senior IPS officer, Anil Kumar Ojha, asked protesters to go to either Jantar Mantar or Ramlila Maidan but he was greeted with the cries of “sarkar humse darti hai”.
They told him, “Aap bhi chalo, hum bhi chale, Dilli police saath do.” Another police officer, Dr Joy Tirkey, failed to respond when students asked why the police feared their own citizens.
The protesters, under the banner of Justice for Women, held a sit-in on the road and demanded registration of an FIR against the President's son for his remarks.
At India Gate, there was a heavy police deployment and all roads leading to the monument had been closed. Protests at Jantar Mantar continued for the fourth consecutive day.