People have been protesting at Raisina Hill since Saturday morning, demanding justice for the 23-year-old woman who was tortured and gangraped on board a moving bus on December 16.
Women in the crowd complained of “molestation” by unruly men. A few protesters, armed with hockey sticks, smashed vehicles and torched police barricades.
In retaliation, police resorted to lathicharge and fired at least 250 tear gas shells. After a police constable was seriously injured, the securitymen at India Gate charged at the protesters and began clearing the area.
No one was spared in the police action. Women, children and mediapersons too were at the receiving end. Delhi Police later said that 78 police personnel were injured in the stone pelting. Sixty five protesters received injuries and 12 DTC buses and an equal number of PCR vans were damaged.
The protest began at 9 am with a few hundred gathering on the India Gate lawns. Soon, police issued prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC, preventing assembly of people anywhere in the New Delhi district.
But defying the orders, the number of protesters began to swell and crossed the 10,000-mark. Police said the crowd, which initially comprised college students, was joined by a mob of “hooligans” who hijacked the peaceful demonstrations.
Appealing for peace, Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Dharmendra Kumar said: “The hooligans were responsible for the violence on Sunday. All the demands of the public have been met and the police have been requesting protesters to maintain peace and calm.”
After initial police requests were met with compliance, the crowd returned to India Gate at 12.30 pm. Police barricaded the area, turning it almost into a fortress. A four-tier security cordon was in place, comprising local police, Delhi Armed Police, Central Reserve Police Force and Rapid Action Force.
Around 5 pm, a group of people marched in with lathis and hockey sticks and began hurling stones at the personnel. “They climbed the barricades and broke some with lathis. They torched some of the barricades. Before we knew what was happening, they began hurling stones at the police,” Tanya Abraham, a Delhi University student, said.
Police fired water cannons and tear gas shells simultaneously and continued till the crowd dispersed. The crowd, however, marched towards the police and tried to head towards Rashtrapati Bhawan. Some dragged the police barricades from India Gate to roads in the vicinity and used them to smash vehicles parked in the area.
Those injured in the clashes were being rushed out in ambulances, but the mob stopped the vehicles and stoned them.
Several women protesters claimed there were drunk men in the crowd. “We were protesting peacefully till these violent men joined the crowd. They were teasing us and molesting the women. If they are here to protest against the gangrape, how can they disrespect women? They were like monsters. They had come to create disharmony” Pooja Singh, a lawyer, said.