India was stunned when a 23 year old female physiotherapy intern was beaten and brutally gang raped by six men on a moving bus in New Delhi on 16 December, 2012 and thrown out of the vehicle, almost dead. She was first taken to Safdarjang Hospital, received multiple surgeries, and was placed on mechanical ventilation. Though still critical, the victim tried her best to communicate with her doctors by writing notes. On 26 December, 2012 she was moved to Singapore for further treatment, where she died on 29 December while undergoing emergency treatment for brain and gastrointestinal damage from the assault.
As the details of the case became public, outrage and protests overtook the nation. People across the nation and the world took up the case to stage protests against rape and a Government, which was still snoozing. Major public protests took place in New Delhi on 21 December, 2012 at India Gate and Raisina Hill, the latter being the location of both the Parliament of India and Rashtrapati Bhawan, the official residence of the President of India. Braving the bitter cold, thousands of protesters demanding early justice clashed with police, overturned cars, and battled Rapid Action Force units. Demonstrators were lathi charged, shot with water cannons, tear gas shells, and arrested. Near about 375 tear gas canisters were used at India Gate and elsewhere in Delhi to disperse the crowds. Protesters believed that the Indian Government failed to act positively or give credible assurances to the protesters, and instead used police force to stop the protests, restoring to lathi charging, pushing the media out of the scene and shutting down metro rail stations. Meanwhile, the Delhi police imposed Section 144 in various places of the national capital. Seven metro rail stations close to India Gate were closed on 22 December, 2012 to discourage protesters from gathering at Raisina Hill. On 24 December, 2012 police blocked roads leading to India Gate and Raisina Hill to prevent possible mass protests. Nine metro rail stations were closed on that day, affecting thousands of transit patrons. News reporters were not allowed to reach India Gate and Raisina Hill. In addition to CrPC section 144, which disallows assembly of groups larger than five, curfew was imposed near the Presidential residence.
In spite of all these hurdles, the incident generated international coverage and was condemned by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of woman, who called on the Government of India and the Government of Delhi “to do everything in their power to take up radical reforms, ensure justice and reach out with robust public services to make women’s lives more safe and secure.” The 23 years old girl failed to return from the ventilator. But she showed that our society, our system is also under ventilation. It’s high time to awaken our society and realize that we are the doctors to help our society, our system to get rid of the disease. So take responsibility and help our system, our society in bringing it out from the ventilator.
Editor’s Note – Anil Cherukupalli
The anguish of a nation was aroused by the barbaric crime committed on a young brave heart and her subsequent fight for her life. Subrata’s essay captures the raw anger and energy of the protests that erupted in New Delhi and the subsequent needless and heavy handed police action to quell the same. There has been much written on the gang rape and the subsequent protests. So, I’ll just concentrate on the photo essay. Subrata has navigated the different facets of the protests brilliantly and brought to the fore the frustration of India’s youth at the dysfunctional, arrogant and uncaring system that is happy to maintain the status quo. The photos of the protestors being pummelled by water cannons which have a surreal, painterly quality to them are particularly haunting. The conflict between the determination of an angry youth intent on reclaiming symbolic but powerful spaces denied to them and the worried law enforcement arm of the government intent on vacating them from there is a study in contrasts. Visuals can be powerful on their own but when they marry the emotions behind such spontaneous protests to powerful storytelling they can transcend being mere documents of what happened to become instead inspiring symbols of civil resistance.