Over the past two decades, a key ecosystem of foodstalls, newspaper vendors and photocopy kiosks had sustained the several disparate mutinies on the Jantar Mantar Road.
While several eateries cropped up that catered to a loyal clientele of journalists, protesters and activists, the langar at the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, a kilometer away, was a big draw.
Besides, the older, more ‘experienced’ protesters were always around to help out the rookies. “When I first came to Jantar Mantar, the other protesters told me where I could get free food. Then someone directed me to a fruit seller, who would occasionally give me bananas at night before they browned completely. I remember there was a time when it was about to rain and someone even told me which tree offered the most protection,” says Ravinder Singh, a protester from Uttarakhand who had been protesting against “corruption” in his home state and who is now planning to return home.
Now with the protesters gone, stall owners have mixed opinions about what has happened. Vipin Kumar, who sells snacks, cold drinks and cigarettes out of a stall, says he is busier than he ever was. “Sales have already improved. The protesters hardly bought food from us; most of them ate at the langar. Now there are more people coming in cars because they find space here to park. I feel bad for the protesters, but I need to fill my stomach too.”
Sanjay Kumar, who sold newspaper on his cycle, disagrees. He says protesters looked forward to his newspapers to know what was happening back home and if, at all, anyone in the government was listening to them. “Who will buy now? Those who come here now only care about their wallets, not about what’s happening in the country,” he says.
Protesters often helped each other out. For instance, when a group of farmers from Tamil Nadu came to Jantar Mantar to protest, a south Indian restaurant had provided them food. The farmers had shared this food with the other protesters.
Omwati Devi, who ran a juice shop, sat on the pavement outside Kerala House. “For years, I sold juice to protesters here. They all called me Amma. Now the municipal people have taken away my juice-making machine. My son is dead and there is no one to help me. Now I am a protester and I won’t move till I get my machine back,” she says.