Monday, December 13, 2004


Yesterday was the third anniversary of the attack on Parliament, which led to a thirteen month stand off between the armed forces of India and Pakistan, contributed to the rhetoric used to jistify the Gujarat Riots, and saw an innocent man, SAR Geelani, condemned to death by the court, on the flimsiest of evidence...

reminded me of something i wrot two years back - which i henece post..

March 6, 2002, Parliament Street - or - Why this country is a basket case.


Zehreelee shahhad ki makkhi ki or ungli na karen
Jise aap chhatta samajhte hain
Vahan janata ke pratinidhi baste hain


Don’t raise/point/wag your finger at the poisonous honey bee
What you think is a hive
Is where the Representatives of the People dwell
- Paash

Parliament Street is the established venue in Delhi for large numbers of people to express their protest in rallies, marches and slogan shouting. The norm is for groups to walk down from the Connaught Place/Jantar Mantar end of Parliament Street till the barricades put up by the police midway between CP and Parliament House. The crowds come, roar at the barricades, and disperse, half a kilometre short of their own elected representatives. Like tired waves breaking on an impregnable cliff – of bright yellow barricades, dull green helmets and khaki riot gear. These protests, symbolically in the heart of the nation’s capital – are in actuality marginalized, largely unheard, and very, very ineffectual. For it is very difficult to actually lead a protest down Parliament Street without formally informing the police, or facing their baton-wielding wrath. So the police organize the protests to the convenience of, well, judge for yourself
Office hours with people largely inside offices, Parliament Street and other routes of march cordoned off to traffic, the press generally having more ‘glamorous’ and ‘sensational’ stories to cover – a protest march down Parliament Street becomes an indulgently personal venting of simmering frustrations – ‘Jesus Lives’ scrawled on the walls of the Vatican. Unless, of course, someone like Arundhati Roy joins the march.

But Arundhati Roy went to jail today. For Contempt of the Supreme Court of India. For believing in Constitutionally given Freedom of Speech and expression enough to have criticise the court’s judgements in three paragraphs of an affidavit she filed. If she doesn’t pay the fine set by the court, she could be in jail
be unjust. Some of them gathered outside the Supreme Court this morning, while the hearing was going on. People from the Narmada Valley, from Kerala, from Andhra Pradesh, from Assam, from Delhi. Narmada Bachao Andolan activists, farmers, home-makers, students, journalists, teachers, lawyers. A lot of them got there with extremely obtrusive policemen (plain-clothes or otherwise) tailing them. The protest still managed to materialise in an extremely spontaneous manner and was lively, spirited, and despite being surrounded by much armed riot-police (or because of it) extremely cheerful. When news came that Arundhati would soon be taken to Tihar – over two hundred people courted arrest by the mere act of crossing the road, and filed into the waiting police trucks and buses in a remarkably orderly fashion.

These packed with humanity vehicles went to Parliament Street Police Station, where all the fun starts.

If kites of the feathered variety were students of semiotics, they would have had an interesting whirling aerial view of Parliament Street this afternoon. Coming from the CP end, wave after wave of angry red flags broke against the barriers just to the north of the Police Station. It was as if the events in Gujarat had suddenly awakened a whole range of movements and organisations to the enormity of misgovernment. Flags and people changed with rapid succession, marching behind each other with near military precision, but all baffled by the barricades, where all their slogans sounded remarkably similar. The khakhi beach was a beleaguered one by lunchtime, Normandy on D-Day.

Then the Arundhati Roy supporters, who had been held in the roomy courtyard of the Police Station, singing protest songs and slogans with remarkable chutzpah, decided that they would rather be imprisoned in Tihar along with her, broke out of the Police Station. Broke out is not an accurate term, for that has hints of violence. This break out was accomplished by a firm, non-violent, and extremely hilarious walk-out that left the police bewi
Narmada Bachao Andolan has become adept at after more than fifteen years of non-violent protest. So two hundred people walked out of arrest/ preventive detention in the presence of heavily armed and riot-gear clad police and out onto Parliament Street. Suddenly the beleaugered beach was an even more beleaguered thin spit of khakhi amidst the turbulent seas of people’s protest. The police tried to bully, drag, threaten and when all failed, oilily cajole the supporters to get back into the Police Station. When even that didn’t work, they brought in a Fire Truck with sirens wailing to hose down the crowd.

After the Gujarat carnage, it couldn’t be more ridiculous. Police stood aside there as violent mobs went on a rampage, killing, looting and indulging in systematic arson till a lot of Gujarat was literally burning and crores of property and invaluable lives were going up in smoke. And here, after a writer is arrested for believing in Freedom of Speech and Expression, when people gather to express their solidarity in non-violent ways, they bring in the water cannons. What conclusions can one draw from this? Only the slogans of the supporters/protestors make sense –

- sarkaar hamse darti hai, police ko aage karti hai.
- (the government is afraid of us, it sends the police forward)

- Arrest rioters, not writers.

But it wasn’t the police who prevailed at Parliament Street today. Medha Patkar, the NBA and other supprters of truth, justice and fair-play managed to fan out into Patel Chowk and wake the sarkari babus out of their card-game playing apathy in the grassy lawn of the traffic circle. They managed to march down Ashoka Road, till Windsor Place, amidt fairly heavily traffic. They were at least seen, if not heard. Then they boarded police buses which took them till outside Tihar, where to my knowledge, the protest still continues
So far, apart from Arundhati Roy, no one is in jail, but not for want of trying on the part of the police.

Rings of power. The circular parliament building is the symbol for a sta
ng concentric rings of defense around itself, the police being the outermost. The state, with all its gross insensitivity, corruption and injustice, needs to be protected from the people it is supposed to represent. And it constantly abstracts these people into the Other, the Enemy, the ISI, Pakistan. And to remove all legitimacy from people’s protest, all democratic means they have are subverted; and non-violent mass protest is completely removed from the public imagination. The signs, the symbols, the spaces of the city are controlled by the police with an iron lathi you won’t see till you wish to protest.

Which is why all that happened at Parliament Street becomes so important today. Especially since it was not the first time that the NBA and its supporters have in ways courageous and imaginative reclaimed the city’s spaces, even if temporarily. Small groups of students and activists have joined hands with people from the Valley and used the spaces of the city, the railway stations, the public toilets, Lodi Gardens, Delhi University, Blue Line buses, to stay ahead of the police long enough to organise mass sit- ins at such heavily guarded government areas as the Supreme Court, the CGO Complex, Shastri Bhavan, etc. To mingle with the people hurrying in rush-hour traffic and to make them stop and think. The NBA, and the strange and beautiful alliances it forges, have allowed the public into spaces usually denied to it, including the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

And that is perhaps what the NBA is all about. Not about one writer going to jail – but the alliance between writers and dispossesed tribals. Between Assamese students and Nimadi peasants. Between Malayali theologians and Rajasthani labourers. Alliances which in their small ways, fight for the big things. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The things that don’t, somehow, become election issues.

But Arundhati’s imprisonment has also seen an attack on these alliances. Students who have actively supported the NBA on a regular basis have been singled ou
police intelligence, their movement severely restricted. This hasn’t, of course, stopped them. Let me take the names of these brave individuals now they are already known to the Police. Banajit Hussain, Karuna Dietrich, Alberuni, Priyani Roy Chowdhary, among others.

All of them are staking their future here, by most usual ways of looking at things.

None of them has done anything for the NBA which is not in agreement with the Constitution of this country. I’d challenge the police to come up with one instance.

None of them has burned a shop, killed a human being, or discriminated against anyone on the basis of religion. They work for the causes of the underdog.

And which is why, on Parliament Street this afternoon, it was increasingly clear that this country has become a basket case.

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