New Delhi: Anti-rape protesters in Delhi promised to continue their agitation, fighting for women's safety. There's no Christmas holiday for the protesters who say they are in it in the long run.
Earlier on Monday, activists of several women's organisations petitioned President Pranab Mukherjee demanding action against Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar and other officials in the wake of the gangrape of a 23-year-old girl in a moving bus in Delhi.
They also demanded setting up of fast-track courts to deal with pending cases of sexual assault. A delegation, led by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat, met Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan and handed over a memorandum to him in this regard.
Protesters say they are in it for the long run. It remains to be seen whether the Centre's announcements and efforts to placate them work.
"Action should be taken against top police officials, including the Police Commissioner, who have willfully failed to implement the guidelines and directions set out for security in the capital for women," the members of the delegation said. "There must be standard operating procedures for any crime against women which include immediate registration of an FIR and a speedy time-bound investigation and filing of case before the court. "Any police official violating the standard operating procedures should be punished. Senior police officials must be mandated to monitor security measures as well as implementation of standard operating procedures," they said.
There was a belated attempt by the government on Monday to do some damage control. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday addressed the nation for the first time since the crisis, appealing for calm and peace. While he described the anger over the incident as just, the Prime Minister said that the violence by protesters was wrong.
While the Prime Minister appealed to the protesters for peace, the rape survivor continued her battle for life at the Safdarjung hospital as she continued to be in a critical condition on a ventilator. The doctors said that on Sunday night the rape survivor had shown tendencies of internal bleeding due to Sepsis infection, which has effected the power of her blood to coagulation. They also said that her Platelate count had gone down from 19000 to 17000.
The government also promised early trial in the rape case with sources indicating it could start as soon as January 3. It also reiterated its promise of fast-track courts for rape trials in Delhi and daily hearings.
Amidst these assurances, the government even sealed off most of Central Delhi and shut as many as nine important metro stations to deter protesters. However, the steps failed to deter the protesters, who moved on to Jantar Mantar and the protests brought the capital on its knees.
However, thousands of commuters in Delhi faced difficulties on Monday, as several roads were shut down to prevent protesters from reaching India Gate. Closing the main roads and traffic diversions led to massive traffic jams in the NCR region. Policemen in large numbers could be seen on all major roads.
Meanwhile, Delhi Lt Governor Tejinder Khanna, who cut short his US visit over the gangrape incidents and the protests over it, met women representatives to discuss the safety of women in the national capital. While announcing that ACP Traffic and ACP PCR would be suspended with immediate effect, Khanna conceded that the traffic police and the PCR vans who were present when the incident took place did not perform their duties.
He also said that disciplinary action would be taken against DCP level officers after going through their explanations, adding that Special Commissioner Sudhir Yadav has been assigned to monitor such situations. According to the Lt Governor, Yadav would be available 24 hours on his personal number - 9818099012 and email id - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Khanna further said that women's groups had suggested that women volunteers would like to join the traffic police in plain clothes and check on harassment of women in buses and public transport. He said this following a meeting with women's organisation for two-and-a-half hours, also attended by top police officers. He also said that Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar had also expressed regret over the violence on Sunday.
However, the police commissioner remained defiant in his approach as he justified the police crackdown on protesters, saying it was not possible for them to separate protestors from anti-social elements. Speaking to IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, the police commissioner asserted that he was not under any pressure to resign and would continue to work till the government had faith in him.
"If we do only police bashing, it is not going to lead us anywhere...if sacking the police commissioner improves the safety of women, then do it every day," said Neeraj Kumar, as he refused to apologise for the police action against the protesters.
Pointing that "in a crackdown, there is always collateral damage", Neeraj Kumar hit out at the media, accusing it of fuelling the violence on Sunday, adding that the police had "not mishandled the situation". "If an innocent person has come to harm, I apologise. I feel sorry for that. But I do not apologise for what the police did there," he further said.
When asked if the people did not have the right to protest, a defiant police commissioner continued to justify his stand, saying, "People do have the right to protest, but they cannot protest in area where section 144 is imposed, they cannot protest in area where preparation is going on for January 26."
The police crackdown was also justified by Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who claimed that hooligans had joined the protests and there was need of force. Speaking to IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, Shinde said, "We face criticism from all ends. Rashtrapati Bhawan is a prestigious house for the country and protesters were breaking down public property."
"When it went out of hands, hooligans joined the protesters, we had to act and use force. One policeman is seriously injured. We can't identify the goons in 3,000 people," Shinde added.
When asked why he did not go to India gate to meet the protesters, the Home Minister compared the protesters to Maoists saying, "It's very easy to say that the Home Minister should go meet protesters there. Tomorrow if BJP workers demonstrate or if Maoists demonstrate with weapons, will I go and meet them too?"
The Home Minister also remained silent on whether or not the Delhi Police Commissioner should resign. "I don't want to comment on commissioner of police. I will not spare anyone and look into the role of those responsible," he said. Shinde said that the government was committed towards the safety of women. "We all have daughters and we are serious about their safety. We expect media to assist us in this great work," Shinde said.
Government assurances have not pacified the protesters. They say they have seen promises in the past and wanted concrete action on the ground now. As protests continue, it remains to be seen whether the government's announcement's and the assurances by the police work.
(With additional information from PTI)