21st April 2013: The Day I Realized I Am No Longer A Part Of A Democratic Nation

Posted on April 22, 2013 in Society

Republished from GotStared.at

By Dhruv Arora:

A fair warning: this may seem a little lengthy but I would urge you to read the whole thing.

This is an account of the protests at India Gate held in the context of the #DelhiRape on the 21st April, 2013. More importantly, however, it is an account of the day that shook me to my core and brought me to a realization that we may be living in a militant nation today.

This is a love story of me and the “World’s Largest Democracy”.

apr21st_site-460x270Shaken and disturbed by the gruesome rape, and highly motivated to voice our opinions, me and a couple of friends had decided to go to India Gate today to be a part of the protests that were going to take place starting 4pm today. I had been a part of the massive protests that had happened in India Gate following the 16th December rape case, and expected no less. We reached India Gate a little before 4 pm and, as we expected, saw what looked like the entire nations’ police and riot control defences ready to take on the protesters.

The site was so bizarre, I thought to myself maybe there is a bigger threat that I may not have been aware of. Surely, such heavy artillery would not be required for the protesters, now, would it? I found myself in awe of the tens of police trucks and the water cannons around me. This picture does not do justice to the atmosphere, but I’m hoping it will be enough to give you an idea.

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We were aware that Section 144 of CrPc had been invoked at India Gate, even though there was no rationale for having issued such an order in the first place. Yes, people were protesting in context to the brutal rape case, but I would have assumed for that to be a good thing. People were raising their voice for what they did not approve of, and this was required. Nevertheless, as we walked towards India Gate from Shahjahan Road, we realized that behind the labyrinth of the defence forces guarding India Gate, all access to the actual site of Amar Jawan Jyoti was revoked. It then hit us that it had been this way forever, and we crossed over to the first open park to the left and sat down there, waiting for more protesters to show up.

As more familiar faces started arriving, we heard that the AISA crowd was arriving at Central Secretariat, and they would start moving from there towards India Gate. So we got up and rushed to Central Secretariat, and we reached just in time as the AISA crowd had just arrived. We turned around and joined them in marching towards India Gate almost the second we reached Central Secretariat. It was on.

What happened in the next couple of hours, however, was surreal, and completely changed my perspective on how the system works.

Call me a fool, but I was under the impression that since we were assembling for a peaceful protest (which we maintained throughout the day), we wouldn’t face too many problems. We started walking through India Gate chanting our demands for freedom without fear, and asking for the resignation of the officials responsible for misbehaving with the rape victim’s family and also the immediate de-throning of the official that slapped the female protester multiple times in connection with this case. For some reason, as we started walking, I realized people were starting to run. I was a little confused, before I realized that we were running because the police was starting to put up barriers preventing us from walking towards India Gate.

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Photo courtesy: Chandan Gomes

Keep in mind, now, that we were equipped with words, signs and demands, and nothing else. We had no intentions of getting violent at all, and we didn’t  We just wanted to be able to protest in our own city about things that affected us, and do that without fear. The irony shines through, however, as our demands of freedom without fear were met with such an aggressively enforced attempt to limit our freedom to be able to walk in a city that apparently belonged to us.

As we reached the barricade, again, peacefully, yet focused on our demands, they tried to stop us from proceeding and we bypassed the barricade from either sides and continued marching on. At this point, we were quite scattered and were just trying to make sure that our voices were not subdued in the way they were trying to curb our freedom.

As we ran across another barricade, we noticed the reason we were able to briskly bypass all the barriers was because they were trying to split us up into smaller groups, surround us and stop us. This happened, as one of my female friends who was right in front of me bypassed a barricade from the left, and headed into the next section of India Gate. It was now that a group of women police officials surrounded her, grabbed her and started pulling her towards a bus that was waiting to detain people and take them away. As we saw this, an entire group of us rushed towards her, grabbed her and would not let go. We demanded that the police let her go, as we did not intend to get violent, we simply wanted to voice our opinions. The exchange lasted for a few minutes following which with the efforts of the entire bunch of us, we managed to free her of their grip and pull her back and away. One of our friends, Shubham, who was also trying to free her of the officials’ grasps, quickly proceeded to move forward as she was let go. We all collected around her and after making sure she was fine, we proceeded to the next barricade.

At this barricade, we realized they had completely locked us in. We tried to move forward, but they wouldn’t let us go. A couple of people gathered around and told us that they would wait for another bus full of protesters from JNU to join us here, after which we would proceed in walking towards India Gate. It was then that we realized that Shubham was nowhere to be found. When I last saw him, he was responding to an aggressive bunch of police officials who were trying to shove him towards the bus, shouting at them to leave him alone. It took us about 5 minutes before we realized he wasn’t there at all.

Shubham had been taken away by the police. A couple of people who saw this happened confirmed this, and then it began.

We rushed to the front of the barricade where the ACP was standing and asked him the whereabouts of our friend. The officials told us that nobody had been detained. Nevertheless, we split up, and a bunch of people went to the local police station (Parliament Street), as we stayed there in an attempt to find out where our friend had gone. As Gautam Bhan stayed there arguing with the police officials trying to find out any whereabouts of where Shubham had disappeared to, we tried incessantly calling him, to no response. We had no idea where had disappeared to.

A couple of people noticed us making noise about our friend and came to us, and told us that they saw him being taken away in one of the police buses. Meanwhile, the police was telling Gautam that they wouldn’t tell us the whereabouts of where they had taken him till we would disperse the protesters (which was odd because just a while ago they were telling us that nobody had been detained), as the people who had gone to the police station confirmed he wasn’t taken there. At this time, we were terrified. The police was quite literally holding Shubham’s location ransom till we would disperse the crowd. I didn’t know they could do that, and as it seemed, section 144 apparently gave them godlike powers.

We rushed to the bus he was taken away in and the driver told us that he had, in fact, dropped our friend to the barricade all the way back, and he was taken somewhere from there. A bunch of us rushed to the barricade in question, hopeful that we may find him there. However, when we reached, we saw nothing. We asked the police officials guarding the barricade where our friend had been taken from there, and their response, as nonchalant as it could have been, was that he could have been taken “anywhere”, and their best guess was that he was taken to somewhere around the Delhi Border.

We were terrified. No information of our friend and the added speculation had us worried about where he had been taken to, as he was still not answering his phone. We rushed back to where they had stopped the entire crowd where Gautam was still engaged in an intense conversation with the ACP and the other officials present there about divulging the location of our friend. As we rejoined Gautam, we told him what the officials at the other end had told us that Shubham must have been taken to some border around Delhi. It was at this point that the officials turned it around on us and I heard the officials say something I still cannot forget,

Tum khabre bana rahe ho. (your guys are creating false news) For all we know, you guys have taken him somewhere in a car and are trying to create a conspiracy targeting us

Apparently, we had hidden our own friend, transported him to a border and were making up stories about his disappearance. We requested, demanded, screamed and insisted that all we were asking for was the location of where he was taken to, to no avail. In fact, they now claimed that nothing of this sort had happened at all, at which point another protester came forward with this photograph of the person in question (in green) being pulled away by a swarm of officials dressed in civilian clothes to the bus:

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As soon as this happened, we called the bunch of our friends who had gone to the police station to lodge a missing persons’ complaint regarding Shubham, and as we came back after making that phone call, Gautam had spoken to the officials who claimed they were getting our friend back. I quickly called back our other friends asking them to not file the complaint, and wait till we called them back.

After about 15 minutes of waiting, Shubham rejoined us. He told us that nobody hurt him, but the aggression with which he was being pulled away resulted in a torn t-shirt and marks on his forehead. They had kept him at one of the police sheds in India Gate and had forbidden him to use his cell-phone at all, which is why he couldn’t respond to us. He tried to put on a brave face, but was visibly shaking at this point. We just hugged him and thanked our stars that we had him back. The police officials quirkily asked us to disperse now since he was back, we had no intentions of doing them any favours. We also got the news that the bus that was supposed to be arriving with the other protestors had been intercepted by the police midway and had been diverted to ITO, where they had begun protesting.

It was clear to us that we weren’t going anywhere. The police then told us that they would fill us up in their buses and transport us to ITO, and they started guiding us to the buses. We had held our fort for a couple of hours, and were ready to go join our other fellow protesters at ITO, so we were escorted into the buses which took us away from India Gate to ITO.

In the bus, we sang songs of freedom, of freedom from the clutches of patriarchy and a failing system. We chanted and demanded for freedom from this daadagiri, for freedom from this militant atmosphere. We demanded that we wanted to be free as was promised to us by our constitution. We were singing like there was no tomorrow, and that was all we could think of doing at that moment. What was going on inside my head was a flurry of confusing thoughts. Unsure of what to think, who to hold this against, I simply joined everyone in this unique celebration of sorrow. The atmosphere gave me a strange hope, but it was although that the hope kept fading away almost as quickly as I could imagine it. We were stopped near Mandi House, and were asked to walk the rest of the way to the protest. We didn’t mind.

We got out of the bus, walked through the barricade they had put up to stop us in our tracks, and we shouted. We shouted our demands and proclaimed our anger at the officials. We hugged each other and echoed on harmoniously towards our other friends who were waiting for us at the end of the strange march forward. The road was empty, and we screamed. We screamed till we couldn’t speak anymore, and we reached ITO.

I can’t say whether it was a protest, or a strange celebration and condemnation of a culture that we all wanted to kill so bad. People were chanting to the beat, walking around in circles, some sitting in the center  I had, however, backed up by now and was collecting my thoughts, because I hadn’t done that till now.

After a while, every bone in my body aching from the excruciatingly exhausting day, I thought to myself about what had happened during the course of the day. I asked myself what I was feeling at the moment, and a strange realization hit me. I wasn’t angry at the police as much anymore. I was pitying them, as they had to do the dirty work based on orders by a very scared bunch of higher-ups. I realized, how the whole charade of the implementation of section 144 was a ridiculous and laughable attempt at depriving us of our rights to exist without fear in our own country, and I realized how the democracy that we all love so much and cherish had melted away long back into the hands of greedy, power hungry and a highly corrupted government.

I realized, at no cost would I let the discussion be taken away from the hideous rape case to what had happened to me today, and I re-focused myself. The strange realization that hit me was that the numbers of the police spoke for themselves, we must continue protesting, and they were scared. And along with that, we were also harmoniously chiming into a new melody of people screaming out that they had had enough of the patriarchal setup and wanted to END all forms of violence. What made me the happiest, however, that inspite of the fact that so many different groups had come together in a protest, we remained calm and did not become violent, and that we didn’t need to. They were scared and running for cover, and the society was listening to our demands that we had had enough. There were about 20 police officials for every single protester there today. They are terrified, alright.

I have come out of the excessively long and tiring day with a fresh belief and a hope in my heart, a desire to protest for every single day I have remaining in my life and raise my voice about everything I must speak out against. I am going to vote, even though I may not believe in change through it as much as I would like to, and I am never going to die down. Even though the 16th December protests were larger in public numbers, this protests will forever go down as the day that changed me, and not just against the government and the systems, but against ourselves too, against the death of humanity, against our patriarchal mindset.

Thank you for holding me back, dear system, for you have ensured that I never hesitate to raise my voice ever again, and you are not going to threaten me into shutting up.

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