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NEW DELHI — India’s capital Delhi turned into a war zone over the weekend as hordes of protesters faced the onslaught of tear gas shells and water cannons fired by police and security batallions.
The protests against the government have been building up since India was shocked with news of the brutal gang rape on Dec. 16 of a 23-year-old girl on a moving bus by six alleged attackers. As the girl continues to battle for her life in a Delhi hospital — her male friend, who also was attacked, is out of danger — the sensational crime has dominated network news and headlines. Protests intensified since Saturday as armies of mostly young protesters marched toward Delhi’s iconic landmark, the India Gate war memorial and the nearby President’s estate.
The protesters demanded to meet President Pranab Mukherjee and seek government assurance for speedy justice and increased public safety for women. While an audience with the president was denied, by Sunday, the initially peaceful protests turned increasingly violent leading to a police crackdown that was telecast live. As police rained down water cannons, tear gas shells and baton sticks, some of the injured included TV cameramen and reporters. A 47-year-old Delhi Police constable suffered serious injuries and died Tuesday in a city hospital.
Tweeted actor Amitabh Bachchan: “Pained and horrified to see what unfolds in Delhi… peaceful protest being met with tear gas and water cannons! When a nation wakes up to reality, it will take much more than water cannons to quell them!”
Elaborating further on the issue, the iconic star posted a detailed blog entry: “A leading newspaper confirmed that there had been an infiltration of elements from a students union of the ruling party, with the exact brief to cause a disruption through violent means, so that the real issue would be sidelined!! And they succeeded! It is a most common ploy in political machinations and has been used in several other situations to great effect. However I do feel that both these so called deterrents were unable to douse the spirit of the protesters, and the fact that the system has moved, in setting up fast track courts for speedy justice, and the assurance given by those in power towards policing and securing any further incidents, is something that the younger generation and the students of Delhi that took to the streets, have found victory in. They deserve salutations!! ”
More praise for the youth came from Elizabeth director Shekhar Kapur, who posted a series of tweets, “I stand proudly today with the students of Delhi. Its the new caring politically aware generation not afraid to stand up for what they believe in… Indian youth have proved they are not just demographic statistics in economic models. They are a potent and fiery political force of change … Indian economists sell youth demographics as engine of consumerism and growth to Walmart etc. Now they are on the streets and you (the government) won’t even talk to them?”
Kapur even compared the Delhi riots to last year’s Arab Spring protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Similarly, director Anurag Kashyap equated the Indian government’s crackdown with the ongoing situation in Syria: “Closing the metro near India Gate – Now the UPA (India’s ruling coalition party the United Progessive Alliance) is behaving like the Syrian dictator,” Kashyap tweeted referring to the advance security measures by the Delhi police to shut down some of the city’s metro stations in an attempt to quell protesters from traveling to India Gate.
“India has GREAT Future. Thanks to it’s YOUTH. You can’t fool them. You can’t Frighten them. You can’t Suppress them,” tweeted actor Anupam Kher.
The six alleged attackers have been arrested, but the government has been criticized for the way it has handled the situation. In what is seen as a too little, too late response, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally gave a televised address Monday night, a week after the horrifying incident. “As a father of three daughters myself, I feel as strongly about this as each one of you,” Singh said, adding that the government was constantly monitoring the victim’s medical condition. He emphasized that anger at this crime is “justified” but added, “Violence will serve no purpose. … We will examine the delay of not only the responses to this terrible crime but also all aspects concerning the safety and security of women.”
As India Gate and nearby central areas continue to be out of bounds since Monday’s security lockdown, protesters have been gathering at another nearby location. “This Christmas I hope that we find our sanity and peace and maybe ‘Democracy’ will not just be a word in the dictionary,” tweeted Kashyap.
Indian celebrities have supported major social issues in the past as well. Last summer saw mass protests in Delhi by leading social activist Anna Hazare, who demanded that the government pass a long-pending anti-corruption law. That movement included celebrities lending support with some including top Bollywood star Aamir Khan making an appearance at the protests.
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