The things you learn at a protest: Aakshi Magazine


She was sitting among a group of young men and women at Jantar Mantar, shouting “Hang those bastards.” When the slogan lost its effectiveness, it turned to “We want Justice,” “Inquilab Zindabad,” and then “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. Borrowed and heard slogans, but they came from a very real place. “I work in Saket but live in Dwarka.” That is a long distance to travel especially at night. She nodded. “I don’t like it when my parents tell me to come home early just because other people are at fault,” she said anger rising in her voice. She didn’t know any of the people in the group she was sitting with. “We just met here. I had come with a friend who I can’t locate at the moment.”

A week ago, last Sunday, when the protests against the gang-rape of the 23 year old first began, Tamanna, an IP university student was standing at India Gate with her four friends. “Hanging is nothing. They should be castrated.” As she said the word, you could feel how liberating it felt for her to say it. There was a hint of hesitation that turned into liberation right in front of me. Her male friends felt slightly shy. Protesting against rape meant acknowledging everything that a repressed society told you didn’t even exist.

In the government’s narrative of “violent protesters” and news television’s well rehearsed, ready made answers protesters, these are the people we might miss on. The critics who say they are “selective protesters” miss them too. Between the last two Sundays, different people who make up the “middle class”, have dropped in first at Raisina Hill, India Gate and then as these areas became cordoned off, to the safer Jantar Mantar. They had seen on TV and heard word by mouth and through social networking sites that something was building up . They had discovered protest could be a possibility because of the year long Lokpal protest last year. Those who didn’t turn up then, showed up here.

Broadly, there seem to be three kinds of people at these venues – student left-wing and right-wing groups who know exactly what their politics is, unaffiliated individuals who just ‘turn up’ alone, and small NGOs and groups like the AAP. They sit side by side in big and small groups, separate but also trying to interact with each other, though not always successfully. Student left groups are there to introduce their ways of thinking to the unaffiliated. Renu, from the New Socialist Initiative said, “Some men were shouting some expletives. I told them these are also sexist.” When two girls were talking about rape, some students belonging to a left party came and asked them, “Don’t you think this should be more than about just rape? There are so many ways in which women are harassed in subtle, every day ways. What about custodial deaths in Manipur and Kashmir?”

But the unaffiliated individual is hesitant towards these already established political groups, even if they are student groups. “We don’t want any politics,” they say. “For a political protest it is interesting to see how it sees itself as apolitical,” a student commented in response. A moment later, at the chai shop, a young man affiliated to the Jai Hind group was telling his friend, “JNU students are intellectual. I can’t talk in front of them. They have read and thought about things so much.”

Unknown to perhaps even them, something is happening. On weekdays the crowd dipped to 200, but there was self-reflection, consistency and involvement among all present. Just being there is liberating enough. Hazra, a 28 year old woman who works in an equipment shop, said, “I don’t think hanging is the answer. The mentality has to change.” Many spoke about “mentality”, and they expressed it in how they don’t feel “safe while travelling in the city”. She added, “Usually I am scared to be a part of a crowd for safety reasons, but here I am bindaas in the crowd.” Ahoy, originally from Manipur but living in Delhi for the last 7 years said, “I feel more confident now just being here. I feel like no one will dare look at me the way they have all these years of living in Delhi just because I look different.”

Their being there itself will lead to a churning within their families, if not now then later. Hazra said it was her mother who told her she had to come here. “I will convince your father that it is safe,” she said. She herself couldn’t come due to “family responsibilities”. I don’t know if it was rehearsed but Tamanna said the exact same thing, “My mother told me to go,” when I asked her if she felt scared coming here after the lathi charge images on TV.

In leaderless protests like these, it is difficult to say who the “outsider” is. Is it the violent protester who went completely out of hand last Saturday and Sunday at India Gate? Discounting those who must have been sent by some political outfit or the other, the out of control angry protester is also symbolic of the anger in all of those present. It is common to hear the scary- “Hand those bastards to us” by many at the protest venue, usually older men and women. Often the manner of the expression of anger is as patriarchal and masculine as the society they want to rebel against. “The politicians’ women should be raped and paraded,” some said. The apprehensions that the beginnings of the Anna movement had evoked – can something be legitimized just because a majority of numbers seem to be demanding it? – is something one will have to think about.

Last week, they cursed and threw bottles, money and juttis at the footsoldiers of the Police and the State – the cadres of policemen and women in front of them – who represent the government to them. There was arrogance and privilege in the manner in which they expressed their anger towards them. Many also say things that seem rehearsed for television, they have the answers ready even before you ask the question. They want Justice but how, they don’t want to think about.

The emptiness of their own slogans is not lost on them. A group of people at Jantar Mantar was asking, “Why are we so confused. What exactly do we want? We should discuss it.” They then went on to sit there the entire day. Arguing out their differences and trying to mingle with other groups. They said they shouldn’t attack the police because the latter is just doing their duty. A man got angry at this and started arguing with them They were not the only ones. Another group of girls spent the whole day at Jantar Mantar thinking of ways to take things forward. Though there was no visible conclusion, they exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch. They will be back.

(Aakshi Magazine is a journalist in Delhi.)

3 thoughts on “The things you learn at a protest: Aakshi Magazine”

  1. Good read. You missed almost nothing.
    A welcome departure from the usual utopian left verbose dished out here every now and then.


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