At Mandi House, by about 12 30 pm, two tempos sporting red flags with AIYF embossed on them arrived and parked outside the Nepal Embassy. They were the first to arrive, standing among police jeeps and water cannon vans.
Men and women, young and old, got down and settled on the grassy lawns outside the embassy, chatting and basking in the mild winter sun. They were mistaken for locals who often rest on the lawns and take afternoon naps before leaving for home at dusk.
When the CPI national secretary Amarjeet Kaur came down to Mandi House and climbed a tempo, with a microphone in hand, all the men and women sitting on the grass stood up and unfurled their red banners – All India Youth Federation Delhi State Council.
They crowded around the tempo, listening to Kaur’s speech. “We have come here for the first time,” said 30-year-old Anjali, who works in a factory which produces steel utensils in Outer Delhi’s Bawana area. “No no,” Meena, 45, a fellow worker and trade unionist interjected. “We keep coming to this area.”
When asked why they had assembled, Anjali’s friend said, “Because our jhuggis are going to be demolished. We want to protest against the government.” Meena steps in again. “Don’t talk. Let our leader talk.” She suddenly slipped into the crowd, reappeared after a minute, and pronounced, “We have come to denounce the atrocity and injustice meted out to Kanhaiya Kumar.”
When the march began later, trade union leaders took stock of the situation and exuberantly noted there were people from the poorest to the rich at the march. “Everyone is here in solidarity with the violence and the clampdown on institutions,” they said.
Several protesters were sporting t-shirts emblazoned with the image of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and a simple message: Mere yaar Kanhaiya (My friend Kanhaiya)
Members of the AISF, CPI and the JNUSU offered them to anyone who wanted to express their solidarity with Kumar, who has been arrested on charges of sedition. Dalip Jaiswal, a member of AISF, said, “Kanhaiya was at the forefront of the ‘Occupy UGC’ movement, which is perhaps one of the most crucial student movements of our times. His imprisonment is completely unconstitutional and we see him as a strong voice against the government’s faulty policies. ”
“The protest is about a lot more than Kanhaiya. But the charges against him are baseless. Many of us know him and his speech only reiterates the fact that there was nothing seditious. This t-shirt represents our opposition to his imprisonment. The longer this lasts, the more people you’ll see wearing these t-shirts,” said another student.