Scenes from a protest in the city
Since May 6, protests have been held all over the country – Delhi, Indore, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Mumbai – over how the sexual harassment allegations against the Chief Justice of India (CJI) have been dismissedUpdated: May 12, 2019 00:58 IST
If you stood on the top stop step near the doorway of Dadar (East) station last Thursday at around 5.45pm, the pattern was obvious. Draw a line connecting one khaki-clad police officer to the next, and you’d have a circle inside which would be a cluster of women. They were there to protest how the sexual harassment allegations against the Chief Justice of India (CJI) had been dismissed. “They’re encircling us,” one woman protestor said in a low murmur. The woman she was speaking to nodded cheerily and said, “The cop near the jeep and that other one are also making frantic calls.”
Since May 6, protests have been held all over the country – Delhi, Indore, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Mumbai – by those who still believe in archaic things like due process, the impartiality of law, and the right to protest in a democracy. In many of these places, protestors were detained by the police within minutes of raising the first slogan. Some people get anticipatory bail; feminists get anticipatory detention.
Delhi Police detained protestors thrice in a week, for hours on each occasion. On May 6, they even detained bystanders and those who were trying to leave the protest. They’ve been so diligent about bundling women into vans that my heart goes out to any group of women walking around central Delhi. The chances of Delhi Police telling them Section 144 is in place and then packing them off to Mandir Marg police station just because they wanted to get ice cream at Connaught Place is a very real possibility.
Mumbai doesn’t have much of a reputation for taking to the streets. It’s a hardworking, exhausted city whose people tend to be either apathetic or paranoid about the consequences of activism.
Yet on Thursday evening, more than 70 women and men showed up outside Dadar (East) station. This may well be more than the number of people watching Student of Year 2 in most Mumbai theatres right now.
Over the course of the next couple of hours, there would be moments of beauty and hilarity. True to Mumbai, the protest was delayed because some key participants were stuck in traffic (“The sign is in Sion!”). The bonnet of a parked Mumbai Police jeep became an impromptu craft corner, with protestors hurriedly making signs on the spot. (Mumbai Police > Delhi Police.) The moment colourful chart paper turned into protest placards – with slogans like “Due Process Not Dude Process” and “Supreme Injustice” – there was a shift in the emotional register. The air crackled with songs and slogans that drew in random bystanders. One gent, after yelling “Supreme Court Shame Shame” with great gusto twice, asked me why we were protesting. When I gave him a one-line summary, he looked aghast. “Kalyug,” he told me, which is as strong an indication as any of how disappointing the media coverage of this case has been.
A few minutes in, I overheard a police officer speaking on the phone. “It’s just a lot of women yelling,” he told the other person. I don’t know if he meant it to be dismissive, but I’m happy for the police to not treat protestors as threats because the fact is, we’re not threatening anyone. We’re just angry and unlike the men and institutions that have failed us, we have little power to change the circumstances or set precedents.
The protests aren’t because the allegations of sexual harassment were dismissed, but because the Supreme Court-appointed panel did the opposite of following best practices for dealing with sexual harassment complaints. It’s an indicator of how the institution that is supposed to uphold our rights, views women (and sexual harassment complaints).
Unperturbed by the minor detail that the complainant withdrew from the probe saying she was being intimidated by the panel and didn’t feel confident she’d get justice, in less than two weeks the panel breezily decided that her allegations had “no substance”. We can’t know the basis of this conclusion since their report won’t be made public. If you can think of a similar case involving a male complainant, I’ll buy you a cupcake.
Of course, you could ask, like a woman did to me on Thursday, “What will this do to change anything?” pointing to the protestors singing songs and waving colourful chart paper that had angry scribbles on them. I looked around, saw a policewoman tapping her lathi to the beat of the “Tu zinda hai”, and replied, “Well, at least we know we’re being heard.”