For three decades, the road behind Jantar Mantar has hosted protests of all kinds, giving voice to those fighting to be heard. Yet many of these protests have not seen fruition.

BY NEHA DIXIT
PHOTOGRAPHS BY HARIKRISHNA KATRAGADDA
TITLE PAGE ILLUSTRATION BY KARTHIKEYAN R

On April 15, four girls came to Jantar Mantar in Delhi. Aged between 13 and 18, they are from a Dalit community in Bhagana village in Hisar, Haryana. On March 23, they had gone to a field near their houses to relieve themselves. That evening, they were kidnapped and gangraped by members of the Jat community, to teach a lesson to the dissenting Dalits—who were demanding equal redistribution of government land and challenging feudal structures—in the village.

Over the last two months, the villagers have waited in the hope of redress but to no avail. Today, over 100 families from the village have joined them in a sit-in at Jantar Mantar. Time and again, their tents have been dismantled and they have been asked to leave.

Situated on the Sansad Marg of Lutyens’ Delhi, Jantar Mantar is a conglomeration of 13 astronomical buildings in red sandstone. From a distance they look like the elements of a child’s geometry box—built in different shapes and sizes surrounded by trees—in central Delhi’s typical style. The road behind this massive observatory is where people from all over arrive to register their protest. Although the protest space isn’t part of the observatory, it’s widely identified by the name of the famous monument—Jantar Mantar.

The lane is roughly half a kilometre long, barricaded at both ends by police personnel, both men and women. It was famously used by Arvind Kejriwal to launch the Aam Aadmi Party. Many December 16 rape protests were also organised here. In the past, Tibetans in exile, anti-Telangana protests, the Maruti Workers’ Union, the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement—all have staged a demonstration here to demand national attention.

You can tell a lot about a protest by the crowds that stream away from Jantar Mantar. Sometimes they’re khadi-clad, sometimes they’re young, sometimes they head to the temples. Tonight, it’s the kind of crowd that fills restaurants and bars. A group of ten 20-something interns and media students have come for a Jantar Mantar walk.

Anuj Gupta is leading the group of protest tourists. He tells the others, “When you come for a protest, you have to take care of the clothes to wear, things you carry. Always bring a face-mask and tissues and don’t carry a wallet. Wear shoes that you can run in. Cargo pants are best: you can carry a camera, notebook, phone, small water bottle.”

According to the Delhi police, 1,530 people have been permitted to demonstrate at Jantar Mantar since the December 16 protests erupted in Delhi last year. Each protest is distinguished by the name it acquires—Damini, Bhagana, Bhasha, Kerala, Babaji, Kejriwal. Each term has its own nuanced history, like the etymology of a loanword that’s drifted in from an unknown island.

It is a soup that constantly simmers.

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