NEW DELHI – Thousands of people demonstrated outside the Indian president’s residence in New Delhi on Saturday, breaching barricades and clashing with police over the brutal rape of a 23-year-old woman before authorities drove them back with sticks, tear gas and water cannons.
Public anger has been building in the week since the attack last Sunday in which six men in a private bus allegedly picked up the victim, a medical student, and her 28-year-old male friend as they headed home about 9 p.m. after watching “Life of Pi” at a multiplex theater.
The pair thought they were boarding a normal commuter bus when the men, who were on a joy ride, allegedly beat them with metal rods and raped her for 30 minutes as the vehicle drove around the city and passed several police posts before dumping the pair by the side of the road.
Six men have been arrested in the case, including the bus driver, and face charges of kidnapping, gang rape, unnatural offenses and robbery. Three of the six have reportedly confessed.
Indian media reported that one of those held, the brother of the driver, was assaulted by other inmates at Tihar Jail before officials separated him from others at the facility.
Protesters on Saturday, the sixth and most violent day of demonstrations, chanted “We want justice” and carried signs reading “Kill the rapists!” “Hang them now” and “Stop the shame.” More than 30 demonstrators and 35 police officials were injured, according to media reports, as protesters threw stones and broke the windows of a public bus.
While New Delhi has seen the most intense protest, other cities have also expressed anger and outrage over the last week.
While high-profile rape cases and violence against women are common in India – and especially in New Delhi, which is known as the nation’s “rape capital” – the brutality of this case has struck a national nerve.
In response to this latest attack, the government announced it had suspended eight police officers for dereliction of duty, was setting up a judicial commission of inquiry and was considering an amendment in the criminal code making rape in certain extreme cases subject to the death penalty.
Opposition lawmakers have called for a special session of parliament to focus on sexual harassment, an idea the government has rejected, perhaps fearful it will be pilloried.
The victim, whose identity has not been disclosed, is reported to be in critical but stable condition after a week on a ventilator. On Saturday, she was well enough to give a statement to police. Doctors at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital had to remove most of her intestines to arrest gangrene that had set in.
“She is very brave and positive and optimistic about her future,” said Dr. Abhilasha Yadav, a senior psychiatrist at the hospital. “Her biological functions are normal and psychologically she is totally balanced and composed.”