Even though it is the second week of the continued agitations at Jantar Mantar, demanding stronger laws for violence against women and justice for the gang-rape victim, the protesters have no concrete and unified plan on how to take the campaign forward except to “protest” until their demands are met. With the gradual decrease in the crowd, questions are being raised about how the movement will be sustained, even though they claim that the protesters will “make sure Jantar Mantar would not remain vacant even for a day.” Unified as they are in their grief, frustration and anger against the government, which is widely perceived to be “arrogant”, “insensitive” and “intolerant”; they are strongly divided in their mode of protests, demands and agenda. While a large group of protesters have opted to be “apolitical”, some have also sided with the students’ and women’s’ groups of political partiers like the CPI (M) and the CPI (ML).
“We are all non-political and non-NGO people. We will continue protesting until our demands are met, which include hanging the rapists in the gang-rape case, besides enacting a law for the death penalty for rapists,” said Maneet Tyagi, an electrical engineer, who has become a prominent face of the “apolitical” protests on television channels. Sunita, who was standing on the fringe, intervened that she did not agree with Mr. Tyagi’s views regarding death penalty. “We need gender sensitisation of the police, besides the common populace, through various media. Then we need better policing, gender sensitive laws and strict implementation,” said Sunita, who works with Oxford University Press.
Asked how death penalty can change the inherently patriarchal attitude of the police and the public at large, Mr. Tyagi had no answer except that he has been collecting suggestions from the public which he will submit to the Justice Verma Committee. He is going to lead the apolitical protest, along with a team of people who are mobilising people through social media campaigns and SMSes.
Talking about the future plans of the protests, he said, “We would shift the agitation from Jantar Mantar to India Gat, once Section 144 is lifted.”
“Boycott Republic Day”
Some of the protesters have decided to boycott the Republic Day celebrations by waving black flags on that day.
Students who have been a part of the movement from the beginning, accept the absence of leadership and problem of unity among the protesting groups. Wanting to do something like coming up with suggestions for amendments to women-related laws, instead of just asking for “justice”, they find themselves in minority with nobody to guide them.
“It is very unfortunate, every day several groups are formed with different sets of demands. There is lots of infighting among these groups. They will fight for justice after they are free from fighting with each other,” said one protester.
Jharna Bhatnagar, who has been protesting along with her friends, said the impact would have been much more had there been unity among the protesters.
As for their future plans, Ms. Bhatnagar said: “I will come to Jantar Mantar till the time it makes sense. Even if I don’t come here, I will continue to do something.” She specifically mentioned the absence of sense of public policy and the things the public need to demand from the government among the protesters. Political groups like the All India Student’s Association, the Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union and the All India Democratic Women’s Association have decided to continue organising protests after submitting their suggestions before the Justice Verma Committee. They have also been demanding wider consultations with stakeholders on the issue of gender violence form the government.
However, social scientist Professor Anand Kumar argued it would be “wrong” to expect these different groups to protest on a united platform. “These are people who are expressing their anger spontaneously. They have several demands. It is up to the political, legal and social leadership of the country to come forward and gap the deficit which has arisen due to the absence of leadership and law and order in the country. The leadership has to make sense of the protesters’ demands, not all of which may be politically, legally and morally viable,” said Prof. Anand, who is a faculty at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“Once the political leadership takes concrete measures which the issue of violence against women deserves, all these protesting groups will gradually settle down,” he said.