India rocked by deadly protests over sex attacks
Police shot dead a journalist during a protest over a sex assault on an actress in northeast India on Sunday as security forces in New Delhi fired tear gas at new demonstrations over a student’s gang-rape.
After the victim of last Sunday’s gang-rape in Delhi began recounting her ordeal to police, a wave of revulsion over sex crimes spread to the remote state of Manipur where a protest was held over the attempted rape of an actress.
A police spokesman said the 36-year-old cameraman, who was working for the national Doordarshan network, was “killed in police firing” while covering a protest which turned violent in the town of Imphal.
Police have yet to arrest anyone over the December 18 assault on the 22-year-old actress and model known as Momoko who has waived her right to anonymity and appeared on television to demand justice.
Momoko has said that a local militant dragged her away during a concert last week and then tried to rape her before she managed to fight him off and flee.
“We want a strong message to be sent that perpetrators of such crimes have no place in our society,” said Bala Bedi, a woman rights activists in Imphal who took part in Sunday’s protest.
India has seen a string of protests across the country in the wake of the Delhi gang-rape which has shone the spotlight on the frightening incidence of violence against women in India.
National crime records show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year were against women. Delhi has been dubbed the rape capital of India with government figures showing the number of rapes in the city rising 17 per cent to 661 this year.
The 23-year-old physiotherapy student, who has been battling for her life since the late-night assault on a bus, gave her first statement to police late on Saturday in the hospital where she is being treated.
“All six men took turns to sexually assault me,” the Hindustan Times newspaper quoted the victim as saying to police.
“They threw us on the side of the road where I then fainted,” she added.
Her answers to the questioning appeared to confirm most of the details that officers had already managed to piece together from a statement by her 28-year-old male companion who was also assaulted and thrown off the vehicle.
All six of the alleged attackers have now been arrested and remanded in custody.
Police say the six were drunk and were joy-riding in an off-duty bus with tainted windows when they picked the unsuspecting pair up as they were returning from a night out at the cinema.
The men then took turns in raping the student at the back of the bus, according to police and prosecutors.
During her assault, the victim suffered serious intestinal injuries from being beaten with an iron rod.
The government, stung by the mass protests and criticism that victims of sex assaults are often let down by India’s notoriously slow justice system, has said it is considering bringing in the death penalty for the most extreme rape cases.
Fearing more violent protests, police declared areas close to the president’s residence and the parliament off-limits on Sunday and detained those who defied the prohibitory orders. All the routes leading to landmark government buildings were cordoned off and metro stations in the vicinity were closed to the public.
However, several hundred protesters managed to breach the cordon around India Gate and braved tear gas and water cannons for the second day in a row.
On Saturday, several thousand college students rallied at the India Gate monument in the heart of the capital where they were baton-charged, water-cannoned and tear-gassed by police.
One group of protesters camped overnight outside the residence of Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the main ruling Congress party.
“I am with you... and justice will be delivered,” Gandhi told the protesters in an impromptu address after midnight.
Junior home minister R.P.N. Singh appealed for calm while defending the police clampdown on protests.
“The government has heard them loud and clear. We are acting on their demands,” Singh told reporters.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has said the government will look at “enhanced punishment in the rarest of rare rape cases”, a reference to capital punishment.
India has executed two people since 2004 – one of whom was Mohammed Kasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The other was a criminal who raped and killed his schoolgirl victim.