New Delhi: Thousands of protesters streamed into the heart of New Delhi on Saturday to demand justice and better policing in the wake of the brutal rape of a 23-year-old medical student.
Protesters scuffled with the police throughout the day. Some police vehicles were damaged, and the police eventually used tear gas, water cannons and sticks to disperse the crowd. Officials said 35 protesters and 37 police officers had been injured, two officers seriously, and that six buses and several police vehicles were damaged.
Outrage over the crime has continued to build across the country and the protesters in New Delhi promised to return in even greater numbers Sunday, prompting Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to hold a news conference on Saturday night to plead for calm.
"The government is committed to ensuring the safety of women in the capital as well as in the rest of the country," Shinde said. "I appeal to this media, to all those who have come to support this dedication, to withdraw."
Shinde listed four steps the government would take immediately to improve security in New Delhi: increase the number of buses at night, track those buses with GPS devices, ensure drivers carry identity badges and increase the number of police officers on busy routes.
The police have arrested six suspects. Shinde said that the victim had given a statement to a magistrate on Friday night, and that the government had enough evidence to prosecute the suspects.
The woman was raped on December 16 after she and her boyfriend boarded a private bus. A group of men onboard the bus, normally used to ferry schoolchildren, beat the couple with iron rods and raped the woman.
The men then dumped them by the roadside.
The woman has had several rounds of surgery and a portion of her intestines had to be removed, doctors said. Shinde also said the government had cancelled all permits for the transportation company that owns the bus on which the rape occurred. At the protest, people chanted "We want justice!" and held placards that said "Save Women Save India." "These rapists should be hanged publicly," said Shaelly Tomar, a graduate student at Delhi University who took part in the protest with several friends. "If that happens, nobody will dare to do it again."
Tens of thousands of rapes are reported each year in India, while many more go unreported because rape victims are often shunned and unable to marry. Even so, reports of rape are on the rise, up about 25 per cent in the past six years. Surveys have suggested that India is one of the most unsafe countries in the world for women.
The roots of the problem run deep in a conservative society that is having trouble adjusting to educational and economic advances by women, long confined to the home. Demographics also play a role, with half of India's population under 25 and female infanticide and the neglect of girls creating a growing gender imbalance. India's criminal justice system, which is riddled with incompetence, corruption and political meddling, seems unable to respond effectively.
(Heather Timmons contributed reporting)
© 2012, The New York Times News Service