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Delhi Protesters Defy Ban, Clash Over Rape Laws
NEW DELHI—Protesters angry about the aggravated rape of a woman on a moving bus a week ago defied a ban on demonstrations and clashed with police in Delhi for the second straight day Sunday.
Authorities over the weekend invoked a law to prohibit demonstrations in New Delhi and had tried to stop protesters from reaching the city’s political hub by blockading roads and shutting underground stations.
Agence France-Presse/Getty ImagesProtesters shout slogans at the police in New Delhi on Sunday.
But thousands of protesters still made it to the area around India Gate, home to the nation’s Parliament, prime minister’s office and president’s residence.
For the second consecutive day, police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters demanding stiffer penalties for rapists and better policing of Delhi’s streets. About 85 people, including students and police officials, were injured in the clashes Sunday, said Delhi police spokesman, Rajan Bhagat.
A Delhi police officer and a journalist were admitted to hospital after being seriously injured in the violence Sunday, Mr. Bhagat said. Protesters blocked traffic, stopped cars and smashed bus windows, he said.
Some witnesses to Saturday’s violence said police were quick to use tear gas and water cannons on demonstrators, mostly students who were trying to keep the protests peaceful.
Later Saturday, the crowds swelled, and many protesters stayed out all night. On Sunday, television news showed scenes of a car being overturned and set on fire.
Antigovernment groups joined the protests Sunday, including supporters of Arvind Kejriwal, an antigraft activist who recently launched a political party.
By Sunday evening, police had cleared the India Gate area of protesters, Mr. Bhagat said. Police also detained a group of young protesters and transported them in buses to makeshift jails, he added.
Politicians have faced criticism from protesters for failing to engage in dialogue. But some protesters met Sunday with Congress party President Sonia Gandhi and General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, her son, at their residence in New Delhi, according to television reports.
The assault on the woman, whose name hasn’t been released, has sparked outrage throughout the country, with protesters demanding tougher punishments for rapists.
The victim and her male friend were attacked soon after boarding a chartered bus Dec. 16 as they returned from watching a movie in a shopping complex in south Delhi.
The six men on the bus, including the driver, gang-raped the woman for nearly an hour, police said. They also beat her and her companion with metal rods as the bus continued to circle the city’s roads for hours, even crossing police checkpoints.
The couple was later stripped and thrown out of the moving bus near a highway in Delhi, police said further.
The woman, in her early 20s, remains in a Delhi hospital following the attack. She was put back on life-support systems Sunday after doctors said she had developed breathing problems. Her condition otherwise remained stable, they said.
Six men, including the bus driver, have been arrested in the attack and charged with offenses including rape and kidnapping, Delhi police officials said.
The assault appears to have become a tipping point in Indians’ anger over increasing incidents of rape. Many cases go unreported because of pressure from families, and rape victims who do come forward often face blame themselves.
A politician from the national ruling Congress party in Haryana state said last month that 90% of rape allegations involved consensual sex.
The protests reflect the disenchantment that the country’s young generation feels toward what they see as India’s failure to protect women’s rights. The government appealed to protesters to remain calm to enable dialogue. “We have to draw a line somewhere. We can’t let the protesters run into government property,” India’s junior home minister, R.P.N. Singh, told television channels Saturday.
Mr. Singh said police had arrested some “unruly protesters” to prevent disorder in the capital. He promised that those guilty of the latest rape will face justice.
In recent days, government and law-enforcement officials have promised to introduce measures to crack down on crimes against women, including better nighttime policing on the streets of Delhi, checks on bus drivers and the cancellation of licenses of illegal buses or those with tinted windows or curtains.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said in Parliament last week that the government had proposed amendments to criminal laws to increase punishment for rape and other crimes against women. Any proposed changes still need to be discussed and passed by lawmakers.
Activists also want to see special fast-track courts to deal with a backlog of more than 900 rape cases waiting to be heard in Delhi alone. Others say India’s society needs to change so women don’t feel pressured by their families to hide rapes.
On Friday, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said the city government was planning to introduce a “stringent law” to curb crimes against women.
“I do not like my city being described as rape capital, but it is out in the open that it has become one,” Ms. Dikshit said.