New Delhi, Oct 2 (PTI) Hundreds of civil society members, students, women and political leaders, including Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, gathered at Jantar Mantar in central Delhi on Friday in a massive protest to demand justice to the young woman who died a fortnight after being allegedly gang raped in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh.
Wearing masks and raising slogans against the UP government, they demanded that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath resign, alleging his administration was 'shielding' the accused. Most of those at Jantar Mantar, which turned into the first big gathering of protesters in Delhi since the anti-CAA demonstrations in February-March, said they were outraged over the way the UP police cremated the victim's body in the dead of the night.
The protest was to be held at India Gate initially but had to shifted to Jantar Mantar owing to the prohibitory orders in place in the Rajpath area. Delhi police had said gathering of up to 100 people would be allowed at Jantar Mantar with prior permission.
Police officials repeatedly made public announcements urging protesters to keep their masks on and maintain social distance. Later, the protesters were booked for violating CrPC Section 144 and other COVID-19 restrictions, a senior police official said.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who had tried to march to Hathras with her brother Rahul Gandhi on Thursday but they were briefly detained by UP police in Greater Noida, attended a separate prayer meeting for the 19-year-old Dalit woman.
She said every woman needs to raise her voice and question the government to seek justice for the 'daughter of Hathras'. She added the Congress party will continue to exert pressure on the Adityanath government till justice is delivered in the case.
The woman succumbed at Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital to the injuries she suffered in the assault by four upper-caste men in her village in Hathras district on September 14. The four have been arrested.
The incident triggered outrage across the country after TV footage showed that the local police cremated the body at night. Her family members alleged they were not allowed to bring the body home one last time, but police claimed they had the family's consent for the cremation.
Priyanka Gandhi, who has been at the forefront of the attack on the Uttar Pradesh government, slammed the Hathras administration for cremating her after the sunset.
'Our country does not have a tradition where the father, the brother — the family of the victim is not allowed to light the pyre,' she said at the prayer meeting organised .
Later in the evening, civil society activists, students, women and political leaders gathered at Jantar Mantar against the incident and the UP government's response to it.
Chief Minister Kejriwal, actor Swara Bhasker, Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad, AAP legislator Saurabh Bhardwaj, Left leaders Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury also attended the protest.
Addressing protestors, Kejriwal said there should be no politics on the issue and the accused must get the strictest punishment.
'The entire country wants that the accused get strictest punishment. Few people feel attempts are being made to shield the accused. That should not happen... The family needs help and sympathy. The family should not be troubled,' he said.
Bhasker said people from different groups have gathered at Jantar Mantar, which shows how enraged people are. 'It is time we start fighting against the rape epidemic.' Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan said the UP police have surrounded the village, are not allowing opposition leaders and mediapersons to enter it and have also taken away the mobile phones of the family members of the victim.
'What is happening in UP is goondaraj,' he alleged.
'The silence of the central government and the top leadership of the BJP on such a heinous crime and the UP government's response thereafter speaks volumes about the authoritarian and anti-democratic 'chehra', 'chaal', 'charitra' and 'chintan' of the ruling party,' Yechury added.
In view of the protest, Delhi police had beefed up security at Jantar Mantar.
Senior police officers and paramilitary personnel were deployed to manage the crowd and the site has been barricaded to restrict the movement of people, an official said.
The entry and exit gates of a few Delhi Metro stations that lead to Jantar Mantar were closed for a few hours. 'Entry & exit gate for Janpath is closed. Trains will not be halting at this station. Exit gates for Rajiv Chowk and Patel Chowk are closed,' the DMRC tweeted.
CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat said the lawlessness in UP is 'a caste code in operation, not the Constitution of India'.
Bhim Army's Azad demanded that a fast-track court be set up to hear the case daily. 'The culprits should be punished as soon as possible so that others get scared before committing such crimes. We will go to Hathras and till the time the matter doesn't come to Delhi, there is no chance of getting justice,' he said.
The UP government, meanwhile, suspended Hathras SP Vikrant Vir and four other policemen based on the preliminary report submitted by the SIT probing the incident.
CM Adityanath said his government is committed to women's safety and those who even think of harming their self-respect will face 'total destruction'.
'They will get such a punishment that it will set an example. The UP government is committed to the safety and development of mothers and daughters,' he said, adding that 'this is our resolve and promise.' PTI NIT SLB GJS SKC ASG BUN ABH ABH