NEW DELHI: For members of Swadheen Bharat Subhash Sena, Jawahar Bagh in Mathura was meant to be a temporary stopover in 2014 — a two -day halt on their way to Delhi’ s Jantar Man tar. They never left, till the night of June 2 this year, when police forcibly evicted them, leading to a bloody clash that claimed the lives of 29 persons.
Had they continued their march to Jantar Mantar— Delhi’s, or rather India’s, hub of protests — they would have met other individuals and organisations who have made the place their home for years, and where they lead a daily ‘normal life’. The flimsy tents, absence of loved ones, lack of a steady income or a job and reliance on nearby Gurdwaras for sustenance fail to move these protesters from the conviction in their ideas.
Sample the case of Anil Kumar Gupta, 52, who has been living in Jantar Mantar for the past three years with his 90-year-old mother, Anguri Devi. He calls himself ‘Deepak Gandhi’ and claims to have propounded‘ ideas’ to the government, based on his research, to tackle issues such as crime, corruption and lack of infrastructure in Delhi.
“People think I am wasting my time and tell me to go back to doing a daily job. But I feel our country needs people devoted to national service, at a time when people only think about individual interests. If the authorities follow my ideas, crime can be reduced by 80%,” says Gupta. He plans to popularise a ‘tension-free club’ that has members with like-minded ideas.
Gupta is running a petition, which he says has already garnered around 250 signatures in his support.
“Last year, the police and municipal authorities forcibly took away my quilts, loudspeaker and other essentials. It has been so difficult to live here since, especially for my mother. But till the government does not listen to my demands, I will continue the protest. I have planned other course of action, including filing a PIL and sending notices through a lawyer,” he says.
His supporters sometimes give him money for basic subsistence and food but he often goes to the nearby gurdwara.
Like Gupta, Shyam Lal Bharati and a self-styled saint Baba Ratanlal Sahu Hindustani, living in nearby tents, are disillusioned with the government. Bharati, who’s been in Jantar Mantar for the past three years, wants the government to take notice of the rampant exploitation of the environment which ismaking the farmers suffer.
The Baba, on the other hand, feels a ‘westernisation’ wave is causing a loss of traditional ideals.
A little further down the road, Dalit protesters of Bhagana Kaand Andolan from Haryana are protesting since 2012 the alleged atrocities of Jats. Basic arrangements such as cooking gas cylinders and charpoys and a tent are helping lead their daily lives.
“Over the years, the powerful Jats have taken over land from which we earned a living, and abducted and raped many of our community’s women. Instead of helping us, the government works hand-in-glove with the Jats, and implicate us in false cases,” alleged Satish Kajala alias Abdul Kalam, who, along with his brother Jagdish converted to Islam to escape discrimination.
Kajala says while 150-200 families had initially come to Jantar Mantar initially, only 5-7 live permanently now. The rest having gone back to their daily lives.
Among others who have set up base at Jantar Mantar include a man, who was declared dead 12 years ago, fighting for his identity and a ‘satyagrahi’ organisation advocating for a ban on cow and bull slaughter but which refuses to identify itself as ‘Hindutva’.
What binds the diverse residents of Jantar Mantar is that despite the unpredictability surrounding their daily lives, they still reflect a resolve to stay on till their demands are heard by the authorities.