(Adds links to video items)
By Ross Colvin and Arup Roychoudhury
NEW DELHI Dec 24 Indian authorities throttled
movement in the heart of the capital on Monday, shutting roads
and railway stations in a bid to restore law and order after
police fought pitched battles with protesters enraged by the
gang rape of a young woman.
In an unusual televised address, Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh called for calm following the weekend clashes in New Delhi
and vowed to punish the rapists for their "monstrous" crime.
Singh's government, often accused by critics of being out of
touch with the aspirations of many Indians, has been caught
off-guard by the depth of the popular outrage as protests have
snowballed and spread to other cities. India is seen as one of
the most unsafe places in the world to be a woman.
Instead of channelling the outrage, the government has found
itself on the defensive over the use of force against the
protesters and complaints that it has done little in its eight
years in power to create a safer environment for women.
The protests have been the biggest in the capital since 2011
demonstrations against corruption that rocked the government.
"People are not reacting to just one rape case. They are
reacting to the general malaise, the frustration with the
leadership. There is a feeling that the leadership is completely
disconnected," said political analyst Neerja Chowdhury.
Police barricaded roads leading to India Gate, an imposing
Arc de Triomphe-style war memorial in the centre of the city,
that has become a hub of the protests by mostly college
students. Many metro rail stations in fog-shrouded Delhi were
also closed, crippling movement around the city of 16 million.
The protests overshadowed an official visit by Russian
President Vladimir Putin and disrupted his schedule.
The 23-year-old victim of the Dec. 16 attack, who was
beaten, raped for almost an hour and thrown out of a moving bus
in New Delhi, was still in a critical condition on respiratory
support, doctors said.
In the weekend spasm of violent protests, police use batons,
teargas and water cannon against demonstrators around the
capital. Protests and candle-light vigils have also taken place
in other Indian cities but they have been more peaceful.
"I appeal to all concerned citizens to maintain peace and
calm. I assure you we will make all possible efforts to ensure
security and safety of women in this country," Singh said in his
televised address to the nation.
Singh has been under fire for remaining largely silent since
the rape. He issued a statement for the first time on Sunday, a
week after the crime. Sonia Gandhi, chief of the ruling Congress
Party, has met some of the protesters to hear their demands.
Comments by political commentators, sociologists and
protesters suggest the rape has tapped into a deep well of
frustration that many Indians have over what they see as weak
governance and poor leadership on social and economic issues.
"There is a huge amount of anger. People are deeply upset
that despite so many incidents there has not been much response
from the state and the government," said social activist Ranjana
Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research in Delhi.
SOCIAL MEDIA SITES DRIVE PROTESTS
New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's
major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours,
according to police figures. A global poll by Thomson Reuters
Foundation in June found that India was the worst place in the
world to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child
marriage and slavery.
Since last week's rape, the authorities have promised better
police patrolling to ensure safety for women returning from work
and entertainment districts, more buses at night, and fast-track
courts for swift verdicts on cases of rape and sexual assaults.
But protesters view those measures as inadequate and are
looking for the government to take a firmer stand on sexual
assaults countrywide, most of which go unreported.
Reported rape cases in India have increased by 9.2 percent
to 24,206 cases in 2011 from 22,172 the previous year, according
to the latest figures from the National Crime Record Bureau,
"This is not about that one rape," said aspiring fashion
designer Shruti Sharma, 24, at a protest in Delhi on Monday.
"This is about how crime is rampant in our cities. We are
angry at the government for not ensuring the safety of its
citizens. The judiciary is slow. Cases take too long."
Opposition political parties, normally quick to exploit the
government's vulnerabilities, have largely been sidelined in the
protests, which have mostly been organised through social media
sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
The protesters come from all walks of life but many are
young and middle class. Political commentators see their
involvement as evidence of growing frustration with the
government's focus on poor and rural voters and a failure to
pass on the benefits of a decade of rapid economic growth.
So far, however, the protesters' focus has been on the rape
case rather than on other grievances.
(Additional reporting By Rajesh Kumar Singh and Satarupa
Bhattacharjya in New Delhi, Sujoy Dhar in Kolkata, Sharat
Pradhan in Lucknow, Ashok Pahalwan in Jammu and , writing by
Ross Colvin,; Editing by John Chalmers and Robert Birsel)