The weekend protester that I am decided to go India gate today again. After all from tomorrow I will earn my daily bread! I was tweeting and knew that @db_DelAplha was also tweeting from there. Imagine my surprise that he turned out to be my friend from college and in all that crowd I met him as soon as I entered! We were together from the entire time.
As I walked in I saw these police men and like yesterday I could point my camera at them. They didn’t stop me. I started walking in to India Gate. Many metro stations were closed but Rajiv Chowk was open.
As soon as I walked a bit I saw this fire. There were three such fires going on and people chased away a fire brigade too. But these were small bonfires. And then a girl asked me for my mobile phone. While I gave to her my friend walked in and suddenly I realized the person I was exchanging tweets with I knew him too since a long time back. Imagine two tweeting people meeting in that crowd! What a coincidence.
As my friend had been there all day he said India Gate and its vicinity was an informal safe area and we stayed there for a while. I also saw a lot of people among the crowd telling others not to restore to violence otherwise the police will charge them. At times they were able to put some sense through.
Near this fire someone posted a notice later!
A little at a little distance towards Raisana Hill real action was. We went a little closer. And suddenly the water canons started and you can see that at a distance people were just standing. Water canons were at a distance. I was standing and without thinking too much I clicked a few pictures.
As soon as the water canons started people closer to the pitched scene started running in all directions. Within two minutes this was the scene, almost empty. Why lathi charge all the way then? My friend told me to say we were press if a policeman came near. We ran for a short distance and then we stood in a corner. Police came and an unknown gentleman in front of me showed his camera and said press. I said the same pointing to my camera. The police asked us to sit down.
Then the police came and asked the vendors to move and started cracking its lathi. So we went near this media van. By now tear gases were going all around. I don’t know how many shells I heard exploding. A father with his two year old was sitting with us. I had a duppata and a water bottle and it helps a lot in tear gas situation. Whoever had water passed it around to others. Soon others joined us and we must have been 10 strong all sitting down. In that chaos a little while later we realized that the father-kid had moved, there were a lot of ambulance I hope they got one. All this while I had no sense to use my camera. I did just one tweet. I was holding the duppata to my eye most of the time.
Then a group of policemen and policewomen came and asked us to move. We said where should we go as there is too much chaos. They said we will escort us out. One lady police also remaked, “aap bhi tou unhi logon ke sath baithte hain” (You also sit with them). I wonder who is this them?
The policeman below escorted us out. We shook hands with this policeman saying thank you.
I had seen someone picking up a stone and throw it back. We told him not to do that. But I wonder if I got a lathi myself would I not be tempted to throw a stone back? Not sure as I never got a lathi, just some tear gas.
I do not know what happened upfront when they started using water canon but I saw that the area was deserted within two minutes. I was close to the scene though not upfront. I am not that brave. The police continued to charge and use tear gas.
While walking out to get an auto, a little away from the scene, I told a policeman at the roundabout that I was a college teacher and you used tear gas at me! He lowered his eyes!
All my sympathies to people who got directly caught in the lathi charge and tear gas. I was luckier this time, I only got the tear gas.
But I am the weekend protester I go back to work tomorrow.
After I saw the lathi charge on the protesters near Raisana Hill I decided I would go. But it was evening before I could actually get out of the house. At the time I went the protests were peaceful and the police just standing guard. But I have never seen so many policemen and women at one place in my life before. Not even at the Janlokpal protests too.
There were some incidents which I never thought would happen in Delhi. I took an auto from Patel Chowk to India Gate. The auto guy asked for 30 rupees which I readily agreed to. He told he was suffering badly due to the closed roads. When it came to giving me back the change for the 100 rupees he willingly gave me back 75. A Delhi auto guy charging less than what he quoted me initially? I never thought I would see that day.
In the evening the protests were peaceful. I could easily walk from India Gate to Raisana Hill right up to the barrier and put my camera right up to the nose of the policemen.
However the broken pieces of glass show that the day had been tense. While I was walking around I saw a policeman say to a tea seller, ‘Ae chai pila’ I just stood there using my mobile phone and the policeman offered money to the tea seller. I was distracted by other people moving closer and I do not know if the tea seller accepted the money or not.
I talked to a few policemen and I asked them why was there a lathi charge during the day? He said, “The numbers were really huge during the day. We expect the same thing tomorrow.” Clearly I was there at a more peaceful time.
This lady in the picture above asked me if the girl was dead. I told her the rumors keep flying but I have not heard anything officially yet.
The policemen and the TV crew had the most resigned look as they knew they were in for a long night. Apart from a few student groups people largely walked in small groups of friends, couples, neighbors etc. When a large group would walk in the police would start moving forward. I saw one group making a human chain keeping them in between the police and their friends. The police stood back.
I will repeat that I went out in the evening when things were more peaceful. I am sure during the day when the lathi charge and everything else happened it would have been a different place.
When I came back to the nearest metro station, Central Secretariat, I stood at the card counter and two guys moved away saying please use the counter we were standing just like that.
If only we could continue on this path!
The Brutal Sexual Assault on a young girl in a moving bus in Delhi has left a lot of us outraged. I contacted Naina Kapur, a leading lawyer and equality expert who has been instrumental in framing of the Vishakha guidelines on workplace sexual harassment and in advocating rape law reform through a Sakshi PIL before the Supreme Court of India. She has years of working experience in the field and can view the issue a little more dispassionately than most of us. I tried to keep the conversation at the level of the involvement of an average person. Whether I succeeded or not is for you to decide.
Mridula Dwivedi: From Vishakha to this brutal gang rape in Delhi, you have a long experience of working in the field of violence against women, do you see any change?
Naina Kapur: Not really, no not much (and then suddenly her voice seems to light up even on the phone) but yes there is one change. People have been very open in this case. I don’t recall the last time this issue was discussed so openly on national TV and that too by young women who have been exceptionally vocal. Before Vishakha we hardly even had a vocabulary to discuss sexual harassment. When I used to conduct seminars about sexual harassment people shied away from all things “sexual”. And then Vishaka gave us the language. In it’s most brutal form, that is rape, we have continued to live in a culture of silence. Yet this one horrific incident has moved people. Whether it is anger or awareness, at least we’re talking. This is one remarkably positive change and I’m happy about that. It was heartening to see women coming on national TV to voice their opinions on sexual harassment and then candidly share their own experiences of such violation. I see this as a welcome trend. But real change requires we transcend the restrictive mentality of being a victim, a “bechaari”, and start thinking of ourselves as women “citizens” who have rights as “complainants.”
MD: At the moment there is a lot of anger with demands for the death penalty for the culprits. Do you think this anger has any use?
NK: Yes I think anger in this instance is very useful. We need to be angry. I’m angry as I’m sure you are. Over time I had stopped responding to such issues with anger, but this case has made so many of us erupt from a stifling silence, from indifference, from deep discontent. With all earnestness, I pray the girl will live to see what kind of change her unfortunate suffering may well bring about. It’s long overdue and I believe we are at a tipping point.
The current limitations of our police force are apparent to us all. And beyond policing and law, there is a very basic responsibility we have as citizens first. It is we who have a responsibility to make it wholly unacceptable that a person will even dares to ogles at a woman. I recall a workshop where a European participant was present and he commented on how he had never seen as much ogling at women as he had seen in India. That’s how outsiders see us- to them the inequality and violation is blatant, not even subtle. How is it that we have come to settle for this? How have we chosen not to see it? Such men have to be made to feel they are in an unacceptable minority. That kind of intolerance is essential if we are to breed a culture of responsible freedom for men and women. Silence or apathy empowers inappropriate and unacceptable behavior. We have to be the ones who intervene, who speak up. In Europe there is something known as the “good Samaritan” law where citizens are obliged to help someone in need. Intervention and assistance is perceived as a legal responsibility. It makes sense. What a wonderful notion. Yet, we continue to bark up the legal tree and ask for yet another law and hope that will solve the problem. It won’t. Lawmakers have not educated themselves on issues, especially when it pertains to violence against women. Just note the example of the MP who said that even if the girl survives in this case, she would be a walking corpse. Such perceptions explain why we end up with ill-conceived, badly crafted and inadequate laws. It’s law for laws sake, not because it promises to deliver on some larger equality vision. The proposed new Sexual Harassment Bill is yet another example of that. And in the end it a majority of men occupy roles in policy and lawmaking and they determine how the legal rights of women should be framed and decided. If these were enlightened beings, it wouldn’t be a problem- but as we’ve seen, they’re not.
MD: We all know that public anger will die down eventually but there would be a sizable amount of people who would like to contribute in spite of the pressures of their day to day life. What is your message to them?
NK: First and foremost, say talk about sexual assault and rape to your sons and daughters. The education has to start at home. We are a sexually immature nation who discourages our children to discuss their sexual bodies. No wonder we grow up awkward and disconnected from that body. And no wonder, we have such a limited understanding of our sexuality and what that means. Parents, teachers, educators and others must make an unequivocal demand for sex education in schools. Ignorance breeds violence and we have to take responsibility for that somewhere. Second, we have to create a concerted campaign on sexual violence, in public places, at the cinema, restaurants, parks, in buildings, at workplaces etc. Just like we see happening with smoking these days. And of course, we must demand accountability from those empowered to police our communities. (She quoted an incident in Canada where a woman sued the police for not informing the community that there was a serial rapist operating in their community) The public is entitled to information.
Only when we take ownership of the issue and our responsibility in preventing such violence whenever we see it, will law and a better sense of law enforcement follow. We need to stop expecting the law or legislation to figure it out. Even when it’s framed, it’s inaccessible and beyond our comprehension. Be guided by our rights as citizens, most critically, our right to live with equality and dignity. Embracing that perception can become a turning point for women, for violence and for accountability.