We’ve never in our lives seen a mass protest,mainly because there has never been one. In our country, our angst and disapproval are debated and derided on the web with the keyboard as our mighty tool and the social media our messenger of choice.
Which is why, when we ran into the Anti-Rape Protest on our way to Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, we wormed our way into the crowd, almost without a question.
” Are you a journalist?” a woman in her 20s asked.
“No, i’m just a tourist.”
” Are you hopeful that things will change?”, I asked two student protestors
“Yes, not overnight, but things will change. We’ve always talked about it, but this is big”
And big it was. For weeks, the whole world had their eyes on the world’s largest democracy, seething with anger and hoping with bated breath that justice be done. The subject was on the lips of everyone we met, and a chai stall owner summarized: “The whole India is want them die”, with reference to the 6 arrested rapists. And beyond justice were calls for radical changes in governance and cultural mindsets.
Are women safe in Delhi, in India? Is the police competent enough? Maybe it’s not the law that protects women, but a modest set of clothing and a curfew? What should a woman do in a tricky situation? A certain guru thinks that she “should have called the culprits ‘brothers’ and begged them to stop.” What about post- rape? Should it be reported, would it bring shame?
Amid the placards, chanting and rioting, we camped out with the local photojournalists (they know how to pick safe spots with good views). Persisting through tear gas attacks and chaotic lathi charges, we felt the injustice, the anger. We didn’t mean to be protesters, but we couldn’t really keep ourselves out either. Three hours on since we joined the crowd, we stopped being ‘tourists’.
An explosive device went off close by and we felt the impact. Another tear gas pellet thrown in our direction, barely five metres away. A few protesters pleaded for our bottles of water to rinse and ease the choking and tearing of their friend.
We had to leave. And so we left with hundreds of images stored in our cameras, a few powerful ones in our heads. The city buzzes on just beyond the barricades, and the protest became our dinner topic, as we asked each other if there was anything that would drive us to the streets back home.