Notes from Raisina Hill

raisina-lamp-justice

“We want justice! We want justice!”

I went to the protests at Raisina Hill expecting very little. Despite the anger over the recent, brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old by a group of six men, who also beat up her male friend, protests over women’s violence in the Capital have been relatively small.

But the crowds walking up the Hill, towards the government offices of North and South Block, from India Gate are unusual. It’s a young crowd—students, young men and women in their twenties, a smattering of slightly older women there to show their solidarity, and it’s a large crowd, about a thousand strong at the Hill itself. There are two small knots representing student’s politicial organisations, but otherwise, many of the people here today are drawn together only by their anger.

Many say it is their first protest, but “this time was too much”. The women spill over with articulate indignation about how tired they are of being targets of violence—not free in the streets, not free at home, says one. The men talk about how they don’t want to be seen in the same light as rapists; one young student talks about how helpless he feels when his women friends/ relatives are targetted. As more and more join the crowds, I realise that many of the students come from Faridabad, Ghaziabad, outside the insulated circle of South Delhi colleges. Almost all of them heard about the protest on Facebook and Twitter, or from friends—not through the mainstream media.

 

“Hang the rapists!” “Castrate Men Who Rape!”

Many of the protestors are volubly, enthusiastically for the death penalty, some demanding mob justice. “Give us those six men, and we’ll show them what pain is like,” says one lovely young girl, holding up a “Death To All Rapists” sign. Her friend breaks down when she talks about how she’s followed the progress of the survivor of the recent gang-rape in Delhi: the brutality of the rape (the rapists savaged the woman so badly with an iron rod that her intestines are permanently damaged) has become a kind of uber-nightmare for many. None of them have thought the implications of capital punishment through: this is a from-the-gut, emotional response.

Along with the “Death To The Rapist” chants,  the “We Want Justice” refrain that runs through this morning’s protests, there’s also a swell of anger against the government and against politicians. Sheela Dikshit, Sonia Gandhi, the Home Minister—the crowd calls, again, and again, for them to come out and address people. They may not know exactly what they want—safer roads? An end to violence against women? Death to rapists?—but they really want someone to talk to them, anyway. “Come out from your safe offices, your safe cars, come out and see how we live,” says one woman. It’s picked up by many others.

raisina-teargas

“Don’t kick it back! Don’t let them blame us!”

The police attempts to disperse protestors thrice in the morning. I miss the first lathi-charge/ tear gassing, but the next two happen shortly afterwards—on what seems like scant provocation. Right at the front, holding the protestors back, a line of young boys and girls reminds everyone to keep it peaceful, to keep it down. “Say whatever you want to say, abuse as much as you want, but no violence,” says a student who’s as much of a leader as this spontaneous, leaderless protest has had. Earlier that morning, some members of the crowd smashed the window of a Delhi Police bus, and apparently that led to the first lathicharge and teargassing.

When four boys start pushing out another of the Delhi Police buses, other protestors immediately stop them. “Don’t give them an excuse!” one calls, but it’s too late. The bus has been rolled back into place. But the water cannon starts up and the teargas shells start bursting, as the police decide that’s the best thing to do with a bunch of young protestors who’re clearly trying to keep it peaceful. We cover our faces with shawls, hankies, and run for it, shells bursting around us. When one of the boys lobs a shell back, he’s yelled at: “Don’t kick it back! Don’t let them blame us!”

The third tear-gassing is equally unwarranted: the police open up the barricades, leaving a tempting gap, and when protestors start to move in (and therefore technically towards Rashtrapati Bhavan), out come the cannons again and the teargas shells. But though the crowds disperse, they keep coming back. The mood has changed slightly. There are more calls of “Delhi Police Hai Hai!” and in a silent shift of tactics, the crowd does its best to bait the police. “Stones are being thrown at the police,” one over-excited reporter says, and he has it wrong. What some of the protestors were throwing were coins, taunting the police: you don’t do your job well enough to keep us safe, perhaps you will if we bribe you. Every so often, obeying some unspoken signal among themselves, the protestors amiably give the cops the finger.

Some boys climb up the lamp posts, holding up their slogans: Hang Rapists, Stop Violence, Respect Women. They’re received with loud cheers, and then an even bigger cheer goes up when one young woman scales a lamppost. Soon, all five of the ornate iron lamp-posts in the park near Raisina Hill have been taken over by young women, sending out sincere if mixed messages. One of them, a fiery shouter of slogans, holds up bangles in the direction of the police, sending out a message that may be singularly unfeminist, but that is also very clear: you should wear these, like weak women, because you can’t do your job, which makes you weak, like women. Seekers of metaphor and symbol would have a field day with this.

The protest stays calm and peaceful, settling down into a kind of rhythm, with separate knots performing their versions of homely street theatre, till about 2:30 pm. By that time, the sting of the teargas has left most of us, and I am recognising, with some surprise, just how safe I feel in this crowd, safer than I have ever felt in any public place in Delhi in decades.

Afternoon: a different crowd

But the crowd is changing, fast, and in unpleasant ways. The students, and their spontaneous protest, form a small wedge at the top of Raisina Hill, flanked by long lines of police and media. Behind them, swirling in eddies through the body of the protestors, are packs of activists, beginning to catch up to the televised, pulsing energy of this particular protest. I see cadres from all kinds of political parties, many of them, like the Shiv Sena, not known for their interest in women’s rights or women’s issues, here just to barrack the government and soak up some TV time. Loose knots of gawkers are beginning to stroll in, attracted by the tamasha—TV crews, out at India Gate on Saturday—and the composition begins to change, radically. If there were as many women as men during the first part of the day, now the back end of the protest, near India Gate, seems to have mostly men—few students, by the look of it.

However confused the protest of the morning was, it was also impressive in its own way—and moving, to see so many young people come out for a cause they felt strongly about, even more moving to see how caring they were of each other. “Do you need water?” the boys had asked, their own eyes streaming. “We have a little extra water,” women had said, sharing what they had with the other girls who’d been teargassed. “Here, take my scarf, take my handkerchief, cover your face.” All through the morning, there’d been that little ripple through the crowd: Is everyone all right? Is everyone safe?

By afternoon, that has changed. I’m at India Gate when the crump of the teargas shells starts up again. The cries of “We want justice!” still echo up Rajpath, but now groups of activists are performing for the TV cameras; the political cadres mug for their audiences; and back at the Hill, what started as a spontaneous gesture of solidarity from a bunch of unrelated young people with no agenda of their own has become yet another mixed, messy business. Not one politician, not one government official, came out on the ramparts of North or South Block to talk to them this morning; and if anyone does, later this evening, they’ll be talking to a completely different crowd. I hope the curiosity of the idle won’t last, and that other protestors from Delhi, who care about the issue more than about being on TV, will join this young, impassioned group.

In one of my favourite moments from the day: just after the first teargassing, as we tried to help a girl who was retching from the gas, her friend stood up and said, “So yeh hai Dilli Police ka motto, With You For You Gas You Always!” “Yaar,” said another girl, “what a bunch of losers they are. Total losers.” The refrain got picked up by the crowd. It may have been the first time in Indian history that a group of protestors responded to being teargassed by giving the police the bird, and chanting: “Losers, losers, tussi loser-log hai!”

It’s a pity, because this bunch of protestors had something interesting about them. Their messages were mixed, and lacked the coherence you’d get from the average activist group, but their energy and will to at least try and make a change was unmistakeable. They have a lot to say for themselves, and though I hadn’t planned to spend my Saturday morning on Raisina Hill, I’m glad I went.

 

More pictures from the December 22 protests:

raisina-bus

raisina-thehill

Teargassed; this was a slightly watery-eyed shot :)

Teargassed; this was a slightly watery-eyed shot :)

Flag-raising ceremony, lamp-post version.

Flag-raising ceremony, lamp-post version.

The women took over lamp-post duty from the men in short order.

The women took over lamp-post duty from the men in short order.

This sign said it all.

This sign said it all.

More posts:

A blocked protest: Notes on my city

On the Dec 23 protests: At the heart of Delhi, no space for you; Dec 23 photos

On survivors and victims, the language of rape: Talking Rape

On the death penalty and rape statistics: Executing The Neighbour

 

 

26 comments

  1. Good piece this Nilanjana. May your tribe grow.

  2. well done people!! salutes to your spirit..
    somehow, the photo of the lady on the post looks like the Liberty statue…

  3. agree…we need some clean up in the society. There are too many morons living free and infesting our society. Hang them.

  4. Heartening to see Delhi protest for its rights. Hope we get to see a change in how the crimes against women are handled, with introduction of stricter punishment and fair & speedy trials. And most importantly a change in the attitude of towards women.
    Sad to see Police in India working more for curbing of protests than curbing the crime. You must still thank God that only water cannons, lathis and tear gas were used against the protesters. Elsewhere in the country people often get Bullets and Expired Tear gas shells.
    Heard that one retired General has also been protesting along with you people today. If you happen to see him anytime do ask him what happened to his conscience when rapes were commited by his men in Kashmir & he advocated for more power and protection against law for his men.
    Its sad that people who were protesting today were silent when state committed even gruesome crimes in NE, Kashmir and other parts of country.

  5. The media should be shown the plce that now have in the present scheme of things, the right messages are now easy to receive.

  6. Awesome: Hats off

  7. Thank you for this. The events leading up to this were enraging, but it’s heartening to see Delhi-ites coming together. Ditto the “Don’t let them blame us” bit. This was a smart, peaceful gathering (one side of it anyway).

  8. A Day at Raisina Hill: Nilanjana Roy « Kafila · · Reply

    [...] (Nilanjana Roy is a well-known writer in Delhi. This article first appeared in her website.) [...]

  9. [...] best report I’ve read of what happened today is here. A clinical timeline is [...]

  10. ashimasharma · · Reply

    A very will written, heartwarming piece.
    If it’s any consolation, the crowd one saw in the evening at the candle light march at India Gate was as spontaneous and apolitical as the morning one. It comprised school and college students who had come along with their teachers. My cook’s son, who works with an NGO was there with his colleagues.
    This was a golden opportunity for the PM to reach out to the youth which is already alienated from him….all he had to do was to come and listen to them or ask the HM to do so and list some concrete steps that the govt is going toExtremely disappointed by his reaction (or lack of it)

  11. so u missed those who threw coins at the constables..some even showed middle finger too!

  12. G.P. Subramaniam. · · Reply

    Very enlightening article. Please go on .

  13. Very nice, was there and also blogged on it. Been following your tweets, good work, was roaming alone there, but it was important to add to the numbers.

  14. I wish there were more of us. I wish we had the power to demand answers. I wish the so called ‘free media’ took-up the issue- even if it’s not backed by celebrities. I wish the international community that has attacked other countries for much less had the decency to raise these issues.
    Applaud the effort of those who were there and you. Thanks!

  15. Rapists should be made permanently unable for future rape and should be made unable to speak

  16. sharafat khanDelhi's gang rape is very serious offense and death punishment should be given to accused. But I think, Government takes necessary actions in right time. we can't say government is in fault, because any person or legal body can take action af · · Reply

    Delhi’s gang rape is very serious offense and death punishment should be given to accused. But I think, Government takes necessary actions in right time. we can’t say government is in fault, because any person or legal body can take action after commit offense. nobody can stop offense befor commit. Yes, government can watch some areas everytims but not possible to over all.

  17. Interesting article, but I am afraid with cases of rape, or indeed any kind of gender related behavior, there is only so much a govt – any govt – can do. This is in the final analysis a social problem, which has to be solved by changing people’s behavior and attitudes to women. Don’t believe me? Think of India’s continuing battle with female feticide. Despite draconian laws, and all sorts of severe restrictions, female feticide continues virtually unchecked (and no making abortion completely illegal is not a solution, infact it will exacerbate the problem). Feticide may seem unrelated to rape, but ultimately both are about social attitudes to women in India, and in the exercise of power over women, and seeing them as dispensable objects. So sure people are angry at what happened, but unfortunately this anger isn’t going to solve any problems.

  18. The best thing of this protest was it was led by public and public anger not by any FAALTU politician… Thanks Nilanjana…

  19. Ratnaprabha Raykar · · Reply

    where the mind is full of “nirbhaya”
    where our heads hang down in shame
    where assault is free
    where law acts late
    and torturers left out on bail
    where girl child is aborted
    where honour killings prevail
    Let this not be my country
    Ratnaprabha Raykar

    where law acts late

  20. Please don’t expect justice from Hijidas.

  21. Amend the law with out any delay.
    1) Rape crime under non bailable warrant.
    2) Fast track court and punishment within 3 months
    3) Permanently disable the sexual power by operating the culprit irrespective of their age.
    4) No parole should be allowed.
    5) No appeal is entertained by HC, SC or President
    6) Death sentence should be awarded or the life term will be extended to minimum 60 years.

  22. The vacant India Gate Canopy is the right place for hanging these rapists. Luckily there is no any Idol of any so called leader. Let this place be used for this work only for all future Rapists.

    1. Surya K Misra · · Reply

      good suggestion.

      1. MRKGANDHI · ·

        Every one in agreement with you. But let us our judicial and legal system helps in achieving this.

  23. STRICT ACTION SHOULD BE TAKEN AGAINST THEM IMMEDIATELY

  24. Certainly! people should fight for justice. And Indian govt should take decision without any delay of punishment for these rapists.

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