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No food, no shade: Why Ramlila Maidan doesn’t work for Jantar Mantar protesters

Protesters point to easy access, nearby gurdwara, say they will not leave

Written by Somya Lakhani | New Delhi |
October 7, 2017 12:36:40 am
A protest at Jantar Mantar, a day after the National Green Tribunal’s order. Praveen Khanna

For the last 845 days, ex-servicemen have made Jantar Mantar their battleground as they demand implementation of the One Rank-One Pension policy. On their daily agenda are invigorating speeches asking war widows and veterans not to give up the fight. But on Friday afternoon, there was another issue on the list — to emphasise that they won’t leave the protest site for Ramlila Maidan, as ordered by the National Green Tribunal on Thursday. “Ex-servicemen as old as 85, many with injuries, travel to Jantar Mantar every day to participate in the protest. This is the centre of the city, so it’s easy to commute. Ramlila Maidan doesn’t suit us. We are peaceful protesters, we didn’t use a mic for six months. The government will support the NGT order… they want us as far away from the public eye, after all. We are not going to leave, no way,” said Mala Sharma, a protester.

A day after the NGT order, worried faces dominated protest stages and pavements. One of them was Archana Soni, 30, an anganwadi worker from UP, who is in Delhi for a two-day protest. “We eat at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, one kilometre away, every time we protest at Jantar Mantar. There are trees here, and shade… none of that is available at Ramlila Maidan. How will we protest in peak summer or winter? Will the NGT provide us food there? If so, we will go to Ramlila Maidan. They are making it increasingly tough for us,” she said.

In agreement was Suryanarayan Shukla, a 52-year-old who has been protesting at Jantar Mantar since August 4, 2017, regarding reopening of a co-op store. “If there is no access to food and shade, who will protest beyond one day? This is what they want… they are taking away our means,” he said. Many protesters said the authorities had not informed them about the order so far. “We don’t know when we are supposed to leave… We are the affected party and no one has told us anything,” said one protester.

Metres away, Tamil Nadu farmers wearing green loincloths are also insistent on staying put at Jantar Mantar, “just like OROP”. “Exposure is high at Jantar Mantar. By asking protesters to move to Ramlila Maidan, we lose that. The government doesn’t want the world to see protesters in the national capital. We don’t use mics or loudspeakers, we don’t fight with police, we are peaceful people. We won’t leave,” said 28-year-old Prakash, who has been protesting for 83 days.

Phool Badan, 40, who has been living on the pavement next to a food kiosk for a decade, “to protest against corruption”, said, “Over years, we have figured out where the important government offices are and how to get there… I won’t leave this spot.”

But some, like 55-year-old Vijay, who runs a food stall at Jantar Mantar, are pleased. “These protesters ruin my business. They eat nothing here, they all go to the gurdwara. I have been here for 25 years, and my old customers don’t like coming here because they don’t want to deal with the crowd,” he said.

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