For the last two days Delhi, the Capital of the country, has looked like it is under siege. The Government has brought out its entire arsenal – in the form of police and paramilitary force. In the heart of the city, one could see policemen, looking exceptionally menacing in full riot gear – bullet-proof jackets, helmets, weapons et al – standing at the crossings, most of which were cordoned off.
Cars were not allowed, obviously. And even the people walking through the streets were treated like nothing less than criminals. Since today I could not get to office on the usual underground, I was forced to haggle with an auto to take me as far as he would and I got as far as I could to find a street blocked by the police.
The same gear, the same weapons, the same menacing looks. At least 20-25 personnel had blocked it. It looked like they expected someone to attack them. Central Delhi had turned into a fortress.
But I had to go through them. And if I wanted to go walk down that street I would have to ask at least one of them to move and also to part the barricade enough so I could go through. As those men towered above my 5-feet-something self, I asked them to move. They glowered. “Yahan kya kaam hai? (Why are you here?)”
I informed them my office is in the area. “Kaunsa office? (Which office?)” I gave them the name and address, all the while seething within. “ID dikha (Show your ID).” I finally lost it. Why should I be treated like a criminal? I asked the person in charge what right he had to stop me. “Section 144 laga hai (Section 144 has been imposed).” I asked him if he saw people with me, while fishing out my ID. “Media wale lag rahe ho (You look like a media person).” I told him I look like it because I am. “Nahi jaane denge (Won’t let you go through).” Why? How can you stop me? “Media wale nai allowed yahan (Media persons are not allowed).” By what right, I asked him, prepared to fight if need be. Guess the fact that I am rather small came to my rescue because the man glared at me and asked, “Camera hai (Are you carrying a camera)?” By now annoyed with the whole situation, annoyed for having to justify my presence I almost barked at him, “You can see what I am carrying. Do you see a big camera (Since for these people the camera which matters most is video)?” The man let me through, almost like he was doing me a favour, “Don’t fight. Go.”
Why, I wonder, have I become a criminal in my own city? Why?
Sunday night saw something that I don’t remember seeing before. The country saw a battle that was aptly described by a media platform as one between ‘iron fist and iron will’.
Men and women fought a battle –for their convictions. It was the sixth day of protests in the country. I woke up to images on TV of police, men, dragging women towards buses to forcefully evict them from the protest site. One girl, presumably a young student, was thrown down. They were being beaten. As the day progressed the clashes too became worse. The police, clad in battle outfits, rained tear gas on the protesting crowd. They struck them with water cannons, even as Delhi woke up to its first really foggy winter morning. All because they had made one very unreasonable demand – a safer country for women.
Men and women refused to budge. They stood there strong. Drenched and cold. But strong. They fought hard. We kept hearing on the news that the police is being forced to attack because the crowd was rowdy. Finally tired of second-hand news, and wanting to mark my presence, I too packed myself in some warm clothes, sensible walking shoes (which served me exceptionally well later in the day), stuffed a notebook, a pen and some money into a small bag and took off. Towards Ground Zero.
Free of traffic the road towards India Gate looked serene, till you saw the police officers in the distance. I joined the protestors. A motley group. Students, families, school kids, old men and women and, undoubtedly, some elements that I would like to avoid. But the majority? Young, angry, passionate students who knew right from wrong, who knew why they were there, and who had grit and determination.
Sloganeering idealists, intellectuals raising the right questions, ones singing fervent songs, mute protestors. There were all kinds of protestors.
Yet, the cries of anger from across India Gate (towards Amar Jawan Jyoti) reminded one of the stiff battle. By then the defiant protestors on the other side of the martyrs’ memorial had lit fires, they were pelting stones at police – they did everything “hooligans” supposedly do.
Yet, they were clearly divided from this group. So clearly that there could be no confusion. Even a blind man could have distinguished between the two. The protest was largely peaceful. The protestors, largely genuine.
But the crackdown happened. One could hear the tear gas being shot before it hit. The sound was one that made my heart jump. It was ominous. It should not have happened, but it did. In the midst of “Shiela Dixit hai hai” the police personnel charged with lathis. They hit everything on their way. Small children (six-13 or so), women, senior citizens – no one was spared.
When the protectors became the hunters, men I would never have trusted came to rescue. They covered up women to protect them from the unprejudiced sticks. They picked up women and put them across the barricades, even as they were being hit. People stood up for one another. Many stayed back to help others, even as they knew they could face the consequences.
On Monday (December 24) our Prime Minister, who has remained mute till now, finally opened his mouth to say the people’s anger is justified but not the violence. Did you, Mr Singh, get your information right? The police instigated violence. Repeatedly. Not the other way round. The crackdown was unprovoked, motivated, ruthless and was ordered by people supposedly governing the self-same people.
The police, I believe, is controlled by the Centre directly. And the Government showed its ugly face on Sunday (December 23). They imposed Section 144 to take away people’s democratic right to protest. They beat up people for raising the right issues. They showed that the administrator has no idea how to govern. They do not know how to deal with real spontaneous anger on issues that really matter to them.
The leaders of the State did not feel it was worth their time to even address the protesters, to just accept that there is something wrong and to give them assurance that it will be addressed and addressed fast. Nothing. Nothing till it blew up into something that even the international media picked up and started playing up. Nothing.
Safety, Mr Shinde? That girl who was gang raped wasn’t safe. The medical student who was gang raped two years back wasn’t safe either. Nor was the BPO employee who was violated and dumped on the corner of a street like dirt. In fact, none of the women in this city are! Furthermore, none of the protesters, on whom your administration declared a crackdown were safe.
Mr Shinde also said that the Government (leaders) should not meet the protesters as it would set a “bad precedence.” “If tomorrow 100 adivasis are killed somewhere in Chattisgarh, do you expect the Government (meaning Sonia Gandhi/crown prince Rahul Gandhi) to go there?” he scoffed.
Is that even a question? Are those Adivasis a part of the country you are leading? Or not? Are we? Maybe not. It doesn’t matter who is killed, who maimed, who raped, who sodomised, who subjected to slavery. All that matters is the seat of power.