Protests over a recent gang rape quickly gained force over the weekend, tapping into longstanding fury against entrenched corruption and lopsided justice, and leading to clashes with the police.
Seven days of demonstrations peaked Sunday, as thousands of people joined women’s and students’ groups despite a hastily enacted ban on protesting in New Delhi. The crowds taunted the police and attacked the car of a member of Parliament. The police, in turn, fired tear gas and water cannons, beat protesters with bamboo sticks and arrested dozens.
What corrupt, entrenched politicians and their police flunkies call “even-handed”.
“Many students who were protesting peacefully were attacked,” said Jayati Ghosh, a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, who had joined the protest with her daughter. “These are patriotic and respectable citizens. You cannot respond to them in this ham-handed manner.”
Kulsoom Rashid, 27, rubbed her eyes and said she had been tear-gassed. “This is how they are responding,” she said, seething. “Hundreds of rapists are running scot-free, and the entire Delhi police is standing here to stop people like me?”
By late afternoon Sunday, political parties had joined the crowd, increasing the number of confrontations with the authorities…
After several recent, highly publicized rape cases, India has been struggling to come to grips with the scale of the vastly underreported problem. Even when rapes are reported, suspects are rarely found and arrested.
In the most recent case, a 23-year-old medical student who boarded what she thought was a public bus on Dec. 16 was brutally raped and beaten nearly to death by a group of men. Six suspects are in jail.
The rapid reaction has done little to stem public anger. On Sunday, protesters jostled with the police, calling them “cowardly,” “corrupt” and “inept,” as they tried to push through the cordon…
“These people have lost patience with a government that has no sense of justice, no sense of accountability and is totally corrupt at the top,” said Prem Shankar Jha, a former editor of the Hindustan Times.
You can witness the reality of what is called democracy in many countries by how police are allowed to treat peaceful demonstrations. Regular readers will know I hold no brief for anarchists and other loonies. They deserve what they get when they try to burn down London or Seattle. But, I was able to follow the course of these demonstrations quite closely over the weekend – via al Jazeera and CCTV9.
The Indian police were merciless in their attacks on peaceful demonstrators, ordinary people, mostly young people, marching because they are fed-up with institutional corruption and injustice. It reminded me of nothing more than early days in our own civil rights movement, North and South.