The police then charged the crowds with batons, fired tear gas and water canons. The government later said the police had little choice because the protests had become violent. However, many witnesses say the police charged on nonviolent crowds who were sitting on the road.
“I couldn’t see anything. I just heard the two cracks of a split bamboo stick on my back, butt, and thighs. Then I heard the police screaming ... and then I saw a boot kicking my knees and shin,” wrote graphic designer Sangeeta Das in a widely circulated Facebook note.
Lokesh, an activist with the feminist organization Streemukti Sangathan, said that a few people were seen pelting stones out of frustration but the rest tried to stop them. “I don’t know who they were,” she said, “but ... the government was ignoring us and not responding to the protests.”
That the police wanted to disperse the protests and not simply respond to stray stone pelting became clear when it also attacked media personnel and their vehicles, say observers.
“News channels had declined [a] government request to leave the site and [so] they showered our broadcast vans [with a water hose] to make us leave,” said one journalist on condition of anonymity. Another journalist was injured when a tear gas shell exploded near her. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry later issued an “advisory” asking news channels to show restraint with their reporting, threatening action if they didn’t.