“They come in numbers, create havoc with slogans, walk around semi-nude, urinate on walls, and leave behind a mess… obviously I want them out of here,” said Varun Seth, 47, one of the seven petitioners who wants Jantar Mantar free of protesters. On Thursday, the National Green Tribunal ordered the Delhi government, NDMC and the Delhi Police Commissioner to “immediately stop all dharnas, assembling of people, public speeches and use of loudspeakers at Jantar Mantar Road within four weeks”.
Seated inside his palatial one-acre property at 6 Jantar Mantar, Seth told The Indian Express about the “worst last five years living on this street”, and his efforts to rid the street of protesters, which he began four years ago. “I filed a case with NGT but no one else supported me — Kerala House, Delhi Metro office, the building next door… everyone refused. It was just us and 5 Jantar Mantar. In 2015, we got an instrument to measure noise here, to show NGT the problem we face,” he said.
The house, built by Seth’s grandfather in 1956, has barricades outside. Apart from the “noise pollution by slogans and songs”, he mentioned issues of safety, hygiene and traffic. “There was a family emergency once but we couldn’t get out because some people protesting for OROP had parked cars outside our house. We can’t invite people over because there might be 500 or 5,000 people here. My children can’t go out and skate or cycle, my father can’t go out for a walk… it’s a nuisance,” he said.
Seth runs two of Delhi’s oldest cinema halls, Ritz and Jagat, and has two children. In the last four years, Seth has installed sound-proof windows in his daughter’s room, tiles with figures of Hindu gods to deter people from urinating outside their house, and even barbed wires.
A day after the NGT order, Seth said he woke up to women protesters hanging their saris on barricades outside his house. “Once, someone protesting cow slaughter tied a cow outside 7 Jantar Mantar. What is one supposed to do?” said Seth.
In the last two decades, since Jantar Mantar became the epicentre of protests, the only two protests that have resonated with Seth are the 2011 Anna Hazare hunger strike and the protests after the December 2012 gangrape. “Everything else here has been pointless. If Jantar Mantar is the protest site, then go inside the monument. Or go to India Gate or Ramlila Maidan… don’t encroach on my privacy. Is this what living in Lutyen’s Delhi is like?”