India Gate, in the heart of the National Capital, which became the focal point of the country’s rage against violence on women on the sixth consecutive day of protests, resembled a war zone on Sunday as the police repeatedly used water cannons, lathis and tear gas on the assembled people. Enraged by the imposition of Section 144 in the city, which prevents the gathering of three or more people, the public came out in strong numbers. Even though Section 144 was revoked later in the day, people said that it was an undemocratic act to begin with.
One police officer said as many as 8,000-10,000 people were at the India Gate.
“What was the need for Section 144? Why was it imposed at all? This was, and is, a peaceful protest,” said Aditya, a radio jockey. “We are with the system, but we want change. Unless society changes the problems will not go away,” he added. Aditya was part of a group of protestors who marked their anger by forming a circle in motion, holding placards with strong messages such as “No stepping back”. Another placard read, “It is a dress, not a yes.”
There was a clear demarcation between the two different kinds of protestors at India Gate. While the slightly more defiant groups engaged the police on one side, protestors on the other side preferred to voice their anguish in more peaceful ways, with slogans, songs or by just simply sitting quietly.
However, even those who were protesting peacefully were not spared and were not only attacked with water cannons, but were also lathi-charged and tear-gassed without warning. No one in the crowd — women, students, children or senior citizens — was spared.
A police officer, who did not wish to be named, said that while a part of the crowd was instigating the action, the attack on citizens who were just lodging their protest, without being violent, was unreasonable. Despite repeated queries on who called for the lathi charge and why, the police officers chose to remain silent.
While the Government has promised that a commission will be set up to expedite the proceedings in the case of the gang-rape of a 23-year-old paramedic student last week, the demonstrators said that it was just a piece-meal offering.
“It is not just about one rape… It is not about focussing on this one incident but using the opportunity to raise the larger issue,” said Sumati Panekar, a doctoral student from Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Theatre personality Arvind Gaur, along with his troupe of young actors, was also among the protestors at India Gate. Social scientist and member of the Aam Aadmi Party Yoginder Yadav said it is uplifting that this movement is “not mobilised. People have come out on their own because of their convictions. The anger isn’t about the one incident, it is an effect of the incident.” He also questioned the unprovoked attack on the protestors and the imposition of Section144.