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Indian Protests Against Gang Rape Intensify


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


GREENE: In India, as you're hearing here, angry protests over an alleged gang rape of a medical student intensified and turned violent over the weekend. These demonstrations at India Gate in central Delhi tapped frustration over unsafe streets, as well as corruption. At least 140 people, including police, were injured yesterday. The prime minister told the nation there is genuine and justified anger, but he said violence would serve no purpose. NPR's Julie McCarthy was in the midst of these protests.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: In riotous scenes on Saturday, baton-charging police clashed with protesters angered over last Sunday's brutal rape. The besieged area around the president's residence became a haze of tear gas. There was a reprise on Sunday when demonstrators defied a hastily issued order banning more protests.

For a second straight day here at India Gate - the protesters are being tear-gassed and dispersed. And here come the police and lots of students running.


MCCARTHY: The air is full of the stinging - stinging tear gas.


MCCARTHY: And here they come again.


MCCARTHY: It's difficult to know where to run.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Police want to make a Kargil over here.

MCCARTHY: Police want to make a Kargil, said this protestor, referring to an outpost in the Himalayas where the Indian and Pakistani armies faced off in 1999. What started out as a cat and mouse game between the protestors and security personnel quickly devolved into serious confrontation.

Police and demonstrators said that outside elements bent on vandalism had infiltrated the protest. Plumes of smoke billowed into the air as unruly members of the crowd built fires and fueled them with alcohol. Women demonstrators complained of being harassed by so-called goons who had joined the mayhem. Police on the scene said that hooligans had crushed a government vehicle, broken metal grills and hurled stones and bamboo sticks at police.

The government has promised to fast-track investigations of sexual crimes and to increase policing to prevent attacks on women. There were more than 600 hundred rapes reported in Delhi this year. The government, though, appears to have misread the public mood. The spontaneous protests are essentially against the breakdown of basic public services. This enraged young law student, Tanu Gosain, railed against a police system that she says is inept and corrupt.

TANU GOSAIN: (Through translator) What the Delhi police should do immediately is start registering our complaints. They should get women constables to register our complaints immediately. Instead, they send us on a round-about. Every time somebody wants to register a complaint they say, Oh, your complaint won't fall in this area. You go to the next police station, you go to the next police station. They send us on this merry-go-round trying to see if we can register a complaint with them at all. For starters, they should just start taking our complaints seriously.

MCCARTHY: Give them money, she said, and you'll get your case registered.

Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi met with protesters Sunday and assured them there would be speedy punishment for the six accused in the gang rape last week that has mobilized women and student groups.


MCCARTHY: Justice, many of the protesters say, would include capital punishment for rape. The government is considering changing the law to allow for the death penalty, an idea that some lawyers have said will not deter the crime of rape.

A heavy security cordon is in place around India Gate today coinciding with a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The young woman at the heart of this national furor, meanwhile, has suffered a setback. Doctors said she underwent minor surgery this morning and is reported to be back on a ventilator.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.