For many at Jantar Mantar, home is where the protest is

Protesters find it difficult to come to grips with NGT’s order asking them to relocate to Ramlila Maidan

Published - October 11, 2017 01:49 am IST - New Delhi

New Delhi : Machindranath Suryavanshi staging a dharna "Akhil Bharatiya Juta Maro Andolan" since 2006, during his protest at Jantar Mantar, after the National Green Tribunal banned protests and demonstrations at Jantar Mantar area, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

New Delhi : Machindranath Suryavanshi staging a dharna "Akhil Bharatiya Juta Maro Andolan" since 2006, during his protest at Jantar Mantar, after the National Green Tribunal banned protests and demonstrations at Jantar Mantar area, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Carefully tearing off the envelopes of a stack of letters that was just delivered to him by the postman, 78-year-old Machindra Nath Suryavanshi, who has been sitting on a protest at Jantar Mantar for over 11 years now, worries that he will lose his permanent address.

“I have been protesting against the ingrained corruption in the government departments. I have left my family and life behind to take up this cause for the good of the nation. A decade is not a small period,” says Mr. Suryavanshi, who is also known as the ‘ joote maar baba ’ after his movement ‘Joota maaro andolan’.

New address

In all government departments, the official address of correspondence for Mr. Suryavanshi since November 15, 2006 is Jantar Mantar, Sansad Marg, New Delhi - 110001. “I am worried that all the RTI applications I have filed and the appointment requests I have made at offices will not reach me now,” he says curling his moustache.

On Tuesday, Jantar Mantar wore a deserted look with the stretch that is generally bustling with plenty of sloganeering and speakers blaring out songs and addresses oddly silent. After last week’s National Green Tribunal order to shift the protest site from here, no permissions for gatherings are being given.

People living close to the venue should not have to suffer noise pollution and unhygienic conditions, the tribunal had said. Protestors camping at the site must instead be moved to Ramlila Maidan, a ground in central Delhi that is the authorised site for protests involving more than 5,000 people.

The only people left at the site are those who have made Jantar Mantar their home. They are fighting for causes that are difficult but, according to them, are worth spending years on.

“All of these people have been camping here with the hope that their voices will some day reach the government. This is the VIP zone and people like me walk up to the Ministries from here, to hand over letters containing our demands. It is close to the parliament and at some rare occasions some Ministers come here and listen to our woes,” says Mr. Suryavanshi.

He added that by moving the protest site and the protestors away from Jantar Mantar, the government is in a way washing their hands off the responsibility of giving them justice.

Convenient area

Satish Narayan, another one of the protesters, had left his house in Bihar on Jan 30, 2016 to sit on a silent protest against cow slaughtering. Before this, he had spent 33 years in Maharashtra pressuring the State government to implement strict laws against cow slaughtering.

“I know my demands are not something that can be met in a day or two, but that’s a chance I have taken. I left my wife and two children to bring a change to society. By throwing us away from the seat of the country’s power, you are proving how little the voices of people matter to you,” he said.

Many protestors who have spent a considerable time at this protest site are also worried about leaving behind the conveniences around this area. “There are public toilets at walking distances here. For lunch and dinner we either go to the Bangla Sahib Gurdwara or the Hanuman temple nearby. The place is also barricaded and there are police officials on duty here all the time, so safety is not a worry. Women come here and spend nights without worrying for their safety,” said Mr. Narayan.

T David Raj, a former national-level fencing player and army official, says that at Ramlila Maidan there will be problems of dust, lack of shade and basic infrastructure.He has been protesting for over five months against the sale of liquor in India.

The NGT had cited three primary reasons for its order — there are no executive orders that demarcate Jantar Mantar as an authorised site for protests, the Delhi Master Plan has marked the spot as a residential area and lastly, the unregulated use of loudspeakers causes noise pollution.

Noise pollution

The protestors, however, are not ready to buy that gatherings at Jantar Mantar might cause pollution.

“There are high-end cars, which honk all over Delhi’s roads and there are factories that not only pollute the air but also causes disturbance by screeching of machines and puffing chimneys. No action is taken against the rich, but for a poor man who is fighting for his rights the government agencies come all guns blazing,” said Yogesh Premchand Gawnekar, who has been sitting on protest since 2014.

For Om Shanti Sharma (38), chances of her cause for protest coming to fruition is slimmer than anyone else’s on the street. She wishes to marry Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “He (Modi) came in my dream four months ago and asked me to marry him. I have come here all the way from Rajasthan to make that happen. I am on a hunger strike and will not end my fast till Modi ji agrees to marry me,” she says.

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