Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday appealed for calm and vowed to protect women as police struggled to quell increasing outrage over sex crimes following the gang-rape of a student.
With much of central Delhi sealed off after a wave of violent protests, Singh said he understood the public’s anger at the “monstrous crime” but added that “violence will serve no purpose”.
“There is genuine and justified anger and anguish at this ghastly incident,” Singh said in a televised address.
“I feel deeply sad at the turn of events leading to clashes between protesters and police forces. I assure you that we will make all possible efforts to ensure security and safety to all women in this country.
“As a father of three daughters myself, I feel as strongly as you. We will ensure justice is delivered,” he added.
His pleas for calm were echoed by the victim’s father.
“Please pray for my daughter and do not resort to any violent activity. She needs your support and your prayers,” the father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the Hindi-language News 24 network.
“My daughter is fighting for her life, but she is very strong and has a strong will to live.”
Protests have been taking place across India over the last week to denounce the police and government over the gang-rape of the 23-year-old student in the capital and the surge of violence against women.
Official figures show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year were against women, with the number of rapes in the capital rising 17 per cent to 661 this year.
The biggest protests were in New Delhi on Saturday, prompting police to cordon off areas around government buildings.
However fresh clashes erupted on Sunday and police said more than 100 people were injured including 60 policemen. The clampdown was further tightened on Monday, with commuters having to make lengthy detours to get to work.
The situation has been exacerbated by extra security already planned for the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The venue for a signing ceremony and press conference with Putin and Singh has been shifted.
“No one will be allowed to march towards the parliament or the president’s palace,” said New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat.
“We know people will face problems because of the road blocks but we have to stop the protests. This just cannot go on.”
A television journalist was shot dead in the northeastern town of Imphal on Sunday by police trying to control a protest over the attempted rape of an actress whose attacker remains at large. Five police have been suspended over the shooting, the Press Trust of India reported.
Police have said some of the Delhi protesters have been intent on causing trouble and the demonstrations have been “hijacked by hooligans”.
While many of the protesters have been women carrying placards, the crowds have drawn increasing numbers of young men who have been hurling stones at security forces. They have responded with tear gas and water cannon.
The police’s hardline tactics have drawn heavy criticism as has the government’s response.
“Both the police and the government are clueless as to how to deal with spontaneous protests,” said a front-page editorial Monday in The Times of India.
“The police have been guilty of undue use of force… The government has failed to realise that these protests are signs of the people’s resolve not to remain mute spectators to administrative apathy and poor governance.”
The government has been on the defensive not only over the levels of crimes against women but also over the notoriously slow criminal legal system.
Ministers have now said they will consider the death penalty for the most extreme rape cases.
The victim of the Delhi gang-rape remains in a critical condition in hospital after suffering terrible injuries during her assault on a bus, which began when she and a male companion were picked up after a night out at the cinema.
Police and prosecutors say six men, who were drunk and were joy-riding in an off-duty bus with tinted windows, took turns in raping the student before throwing her off the vehicle.
During her assault, the victim suffered serious intestinal injuries from being beaten with an iron rod.
All six alleged attackers have now been arrested and remanded in custody.