India Gate, the heart of the national capital, was under siege on Monday with the police blocking roads to stop protests and demonstrators, who are up in arms for the seventh day against violence on women.
This put commuters to severe hardship. Office-goers and students were affected by the police shutting down nine metro stations near India Gate and Raisina Hill.
Delhi woke up to an unusual televised statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue of violence against women. The Prime Minister has been criticised for not addressing the people protesting against the gang-rape of a 23-year-old paramedic in the National Capital last week.
The last few days have not only seen anger against the local government boil over but also raised questions on the competence of the Manmohan Singh-led Central Government, as expectations were that the Prime Minister would respond immediately. In fact, all actions of the Government for maintaining law and order have been seen as ‘knee-jerk reactions.’
Manmohan Singh’s address on Monday was termed as being more strategic as it came a few hours ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit.
While saying there was “genuine and justified anger and anguish”, Singh appealed for calm, saying said violence was not the answer. “We will examine the delay — not only the responses to this terrible crime but all aspects concerning the safety and security of women,” he said.
But Singh was not able to mollify the protestors. The Sunday night crackdown on the demonstrators as well as media was seen as ‘undemocratic’.
“If one were to look at India Gate and the surrounding areas of Central Delhi, one could think the city is under siege,” one protestor said, adding, “It is funny that to stamp down a reasonable protest the Government could bring out all its arsenal, but for the safety of the citizen there are never enough police.”
Once again, Section 144, banning assembly of four or more persons, has been imposed in Delhi, and all protestors assembled at Jantar Mantar, the only place in the city which is exempt from the prohibitory order.
President Pranab Mukherjee also issued a statement on Monday. He said, “We mark Christmas at a time when the nation is joined in anguish and distress over the recent horrific attack on a young girl in New Delhi...Let us resolve to redouble our efforts for the protection of women and their welfare. Let us strive to ensure that women feel safe and secure at all times.”
Not one to let go of an opportunity to disgrace the Government, the Opposition party leaders met the President and appealed for a special session of Parliament. There is a strong demand for amending the law to enhance punishment in cases of sexual assault. Interestingly, within hours of announcing women helpline number 167, the Department of Telecommunications changed it to 181, stating that it was easier to remember.
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