Near India Gate, A Blocked Protest: notes on my city

(Note: There are so many ways for a city to exclude its citizens. Yesterday, talking to the police who were there to prevent this small, sincere band of protestors from marching up to India Gate, I asked a few how they felt about guarding the Gate from us–all 300 or so of the women’s rights activists, young students, men who had come out to register their protest along with the women, everyone who had showed up to ask for more freedom, more rights for women.

“Kya kare,” said one cop. “Waha VIP movement hi allowed hain aaj kal.” (“What to do, there’s only VIP movement allowed at [India Gate] these days.”)

The architecture of the India Gate area is classically imperial–the statute of George V used to look down that long vista towards Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Emperor of India should have been able to see the dome of the seat of power, except for an error in the plans by Baker and Lutyens; as you walk up Raisina Hill, a walk that every citizen was freely able to take not so long ago, before security barriers began to define Delhi, Rashtrapati Bhavan dips out of sight, the dome of power disappearing.

Some of the policemen were shyly embarrassed when they realised that the might of the state had been brought out against a scant 300 citizens. There were few political parties–the organisers had asked politicians to refrain from using their banners, not to use Gandhi caps or national flags, and not to make speeches: in the face of these restrictions, the party support for women’s rights melted away remarkably fast.

Some cops were angry, like the policeman who was talking into his phone as I passed by, passing him, passing the four trucks that held the water cannons: “There is a city beyond India Gate, and who’s supposed to police it,” he was asking, “when all of us are here? Guarding what?” What they had been brought to Feroze Shah Road to guard was the immaculate emptiness of Rajpath, that blank space at the heart of Delhi.

2012-12-27 15.14.08

If these protests are to go beyond the immediate cries for “justice”, a justice that veers between being the rough hanging justice of a mob as violent as its targets, and a more idealistic justice that asks only for women to be treated as equal, free citizens (yes, that enormous, preposterous demand), then it needs to abandon this city’s empty heart.

It feels so strange, to be told that Rajpath does not belong to its citizens; but through years of shifting its citizens around, to Welcome in the Emergency years, to Bhalaswa and Najafgarh in the slum-clearing years, Delhi’s had a lot of practice at telling its citizens that they don’t belong in many places. Perhaps the protests need to go to the many Delhis that never make it to the media glare, because they’re outside the zone of power and comfort: to Shahdara and the slums of Kusumpur Pahari and Bhalaswa, to Dwarka and to Shakarpur. Those Delhis matter more than Imperial Delhi; and they have a tolerance and a space for citizens that Imperial Delhi has long since forgotten.)

More posts:

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

On the Dec 22 protests: Notes From Raisina Hill

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

On the death penalty and rape statistics: Executing The Neighbour






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