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Eyewitness: 'Why did they hit the women?'

Last updated on: December 24, 2012 12:57 IST

Eyewitness: 'Why did they hit the women?'

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Priyanka in New Delhi

Rediff.com's Priyanka was a ringside observer to Sunday's mahyem in the heart of the national capital. This is what she saw:

"Hum ne kya kiya hai yaar? Hume kyon mar rahe ho? (What have we done? Why are you hitting us)?," a young girl shrieked as we -- young students and professionals, boys and girls, old couples and a few children -- fled the Delhi police personnel who charged at us with lathis.

The weeping girl was holding a banner demanding harsh punishment for the accused who brutally gang-raped a 23-year-old woman in south Delhi last Sunday.

Chaos ruled the India Gate area. As the police lathi-charged protestors, people were separated from their groups and were seen making frantic phone calls, trying to trace friends and family.

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Image: Delhi police charge at demonstrators at India Gate with lathis on Sunday
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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'This is crazy'

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"The demographic of this crowd is very diverse," observed Kaizad, a student of psychology at Ambedkar University.

Indeed, there were people of all ages, occupations and walks of life at Sunday's protest.

The crowd was not without its troublemakers; two cars that entered the protest zone were damaged. Railings from structures on the ground were uprooted and burnt.

Stones, some as big as half a brick, were hurled at the police.

But when the police crackdown began, the troublemakers were not targeted by the Delhi police. It were the women and young students who were assaulted the most.

"This is crazy," I heard many protestors say after they escaped the police wrath with bruises.

The police assault commenced a little after 3 pm on Sunday when nearly 7,000 people were gathered, most of whom were protesting peacefully, sitting in circles and chanting, 'We want justice.'

In the next three hours, the Delhi police would lob around 250 teargas shells to disperse the protestors.

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Image: Protestors form a human chain near India Gate
Photographs: Priyanka/Rediff.com

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What most protestors had were banners, demanding security and harsh punishment for the guilty

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Tell-tale signs of brewing trouble had been visible for some time on Raisina Hill, the centre of power in India.

Some protestors would charge towards Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, and would be pushed back by the police with force. But the troublemakers would return again, and try to charge Rashtrapati Bhavan afresh. This went on for a couple of hours.

After an initial crackdown by the Delhi police around 11 am, the protestors started assembling again. By 1 pm, the area was swarming with people. Fresh batches of people in groups of between 10 and 100 joined the protest.

Many protestors were young; some were members of student unions, represented by both the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University.

But there were many college students without affilation to any political group; outrage at the brutal gang-rape provoking their participation in the protest.

All they had in their hands were banners -- most of it created by hand -- demanding security for women in India's capital city, indeed in the country itself; more stringent laws against rapists; and harsh punishment for those involved in last Sunday's horrific crime.

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Image: Protestors raise slogans at India Gate
Photographs: Priyanka/Rediff.com

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'I want my children to be aware of what's happening'

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Amit, a young parent, had come to the protest with his six-year-old daughter and elder son.

"My daughter asks me who the didi thrown out of the bus was," Amit said. "Now she asks me what phasi (gallows) is."

"I want my children to be aware of what is happening," he added.

A roll of white paper, at least 70 metres long, was laid out on the ground so that protestors could write their messages on it.

There were mini sabhas, where people sat in groups -- some as small as 10 people, some as large as a few hundred people -- discussing what could be done to end the scourge of crimes against women.

There were plenty of street vendors around too. For two days, one vendor told me, they had done good business. He had sold goods worth Rs 1,500 on Saturday alone, he confided.

Sunday was a slow sell, but business was beginning to pick up. Until mayhem came a-calling.

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Image: The roll of paper on which the protesters wrote their messages
Photographs: Priyanka/Rediff.com
Tags: Amit

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'Violence will kill our movement'

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A few minutes after 3 pm, two large trucks, with water cannons mounted on top of them, moved towards the protestors.

Teargas shells, which left a strong, pungent and burning sensation suspended in the air for a long time, were used repeatedly thereafter.

Many in the crowd wanted to know why the policemen had willfully attacked the women protestors.

A lady dressed in white, who was lathi-charged, chose to stay on in the protest zone for a long time thereafter.

"I am still here," she said, "because I am a witness to what happened here today."

"Why did they hit the women?" she asked.

After the area had been cleared of protestors, many young people formed groups and spoke amongst themselves.

"Violence will kill our movement," some young people observed. Others began work on banners, requesting the protestors to stay non-violent.


Image: A contingent of the Rapid Action Force at the protest venue
Photographs: Priyanka/Rediff.com
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