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Paved with dissent

Ritu Kumari &
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Delhi's Jantar Mantar Road where citizens converge to protest

Regular scene:Poster-lined Jantar Mantar Road.Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma
Regular scene:Poster-lined Jantar Mantar Road.Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Dusk is around the corner. Half hanging posters, scattered chairs and fallen tent poles indicate the abrupt wrapping up of a protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar Road.

It is one of the many sit-ins that have taken place during the day at the place well-known for expressing dissent in the country’s democratic set up. At the venue, adjacent to the 18{+t}{+h}Century monument Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, protests are a normal occurrence for the past few years as the road has been designated for this purpose.

Though night is approaching rapidly, there is still a lot of activity. Security personnel can be seen sipping tea at a corner stall, while the cacophony of people fills the air. Amidst the action, a vendor under a tree busies himself cracking eggs into a pan. Some tents put up by protesters still stand. Inside the one that sports the banner Vishwa Jain Sangathan, a man addresses a small crowd as he wipes his face with a wet towel. Its president Sanjay Jain is observing a fast unto death, demanding minority status for the Jain community.

Along the road, in another small tent people sit on a carpet chatting and calling out to passers-by. This group represents the Yamuna Mukti Abhiyan, which is busy spreading awareness on river pollution. Apart from hunger strikes, Jantar Mantar Road has also often been witness to candle light vigils.

Prior to Jantar Mantar Road, India Gate and Rajpath used to be the preferred place for protestors. “In the late 1980s, farmers from Uttar Pradesh gheraoed India Gate. They cooked their food and left garbage here and there. This caused great inconvenience to the people and the city,” said Shriom, one of the members of Yamuna Mukti Abhiyan. He feels that it was after this that the Centre allocated Jantar Mantar Road to carry out agitations.

However, all is not perfect with this venue. Health and hygiene plague protestors day in and day out. Water proves to be a serious problem. There is only one public toilet.

Other than protests, Jantar Mantar Road draws the attention of people thanks to the food available here. A South Indian stall serves idlis and dosas that are very popular with the office going crowd in the vicinity. “Our business goes down on the day of too many protests; protestors do not spend money on this kind of food,” says Mani from Kerala, the caretaker of the shop.

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