Journalist shot dead amid anti-rape protests in India
NEW DELHI - Police shot dead a journalist at a protest against a sexual assault on an actress in north-eastern India, even as tensions continued to boil in the country's capital over the brutal gang rape of a medical student.
Police said the 36-year-old cameraman working for the state-run Doordarshan TV network was covering the protest in the state of Manipur when he was "killed in police firing".
In Delhi, police yesterday used batons and tear gas to stop thousands of young men and women defying a ban on protests to march against the gang rape on Dec 16 that has outraged Indians, bringing them out to the streets.
The protesters - many of whom were college students, but who also included housewives and even children - marched towards the Rajpath or King's Way where police in riot gear stopped them. The ceremonial avenue, which houses the President's palace and Parliament, also leads to the Prime Minister's office and several top ministries.
Earlier in the morning, the city authorities had banned protests and closed seven metro stations around India Gate, a popular tourist spot along the Rajpath, in a bid to stop people from reaching the focal point of the week-old protests.
The demonstrations continued despite a meeting between protesters and Ms Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party and India's most powerful politician, early yesterday morning.
"She assured them that all necessary steps will be taken, not only in this unfortunate case but also to ensure women's safety. She said laws also need to be relooked at," said Mr R.P.N. Singh, India's junior home minister, who attended the meeting.
As a foggy city woke up to its coldest day of the year, police pushed overnight protesters into a van. Young men and women lay before the van to stop their fellow demonstrators from being taken away.
"Shame, shame, you beat us while rapists roam free," a young woman shouted into TV cameras as police dragged her away.
Later in the day, thousands began converging on the protest site, vowing not to relent unless the government took steps to protect women and ensure quick justice for the 23-year-old victim.
The medical student was raped and beaten by six drunk men joyriding on a bus, while her boyfriend was also assaulted.
Media reports said the victim, who has been on life support since the attack, has begun recounting her ordeal before a magistrate. "All six men took turns to sexually assault me," she was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
"They threw us on the side of the road where I then fainted."
Bowing to the massive public pressure, the government on Saturday ordered a judicial probe, suspended five policemen and said it would look into the possibility of punishing rape with death.
Protesters have vowed to continue their "struggle for justice" for the victim. "This time, something must come out of this; either they stop paying lip service to women's issues or we continue this struggle as long as needed," said Mr Satish Chauhan, a student.
Government figures show a woman is raped every 20 minutes in India, with New Delhi registering the highest number of cases among India's major cities. There have been 635 sexual assaults this year, up from 568 last year.