Nine months after the National Green Tribunal ordered the Delhi government to “immediately stop dharnas, assembling of people and public speeches” at Jantar Mantar, protesters returned there Monday, after the Supreme Court said “there cannot be a complete or absolute ban on holding protests at places like Jantar Mantar and Boat Club”.
Devendra Kumar Bhagat (56) reached Delhi from Baghpat at 3 pm with two boxes of ghevar and balushahi from his sweet shop.
“I have been attached to various movements for over a decade. From supporting Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption to protesting for the rights of labourers — Jantar Mantar is not just a protest site, it’s home,” he said.
Aatam Prakash (77), who came from Noida to celebrate with his “friends”, said, “It started with the JP movement… then I joined Anna, followed by the One Rank One Pension protest… Today, Jantar Mantar is ours again”.
For others like Machindranath Suryavanshi (67), who started the Akhil Bhartiya Joota Maar Andolan in 2006 to fight corruption, the order is “a win for democracy and respect of dissent”. For a decade, Suryavanshi made the footpath at Jantar Mantar his home, and continued living there even after the NGT order.
Sudesh Goyat, member of the One Rank One Pension protest group, spent Monday morning at courtroom number 5, where the verdict was announced.
“For the last few months, we have been gathering at Jantar Mantar daily for an hour… and once our protest space is returned to us, we will put up our stage and continue the fight,” she said.
After the NGT order, it was expected that protesters would move to Ramlila Maidan, but there were only a few takers.
Shivani Kaul, president of Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union, said, “Ramlila Maidan wasn’t convenient, so we would get permission for staging dharnas at Parliament Street… but within minutes we would be evacuated.”
The SC also mentioned that it is lifting a blanket ban on protests at Boat Club, near India Gate.
The news took Riazuddin (65) back to 1989 when he protested against the murder of playwright Safdar Hashmi. “I was in his play Halla Bol, and when he was murdered, we took over Boat Club… over the years, it was taken away from us,” he said.