Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Stand still laddie!"

Observations from a protest against police apathy towards the rape of a minor girl in Delhi, 8th Feb, 2014

At around one thirty in the afternoon I read it off my facebook wall: a 14 year old Manipuri girl had been raped by her landlord’s son in the locality I live in, Munirka Village, and that the police had refused to file the FIR. The post called on people to gather at the nearby Vasant Vihar police station. I left in a bit; all of nelson mandela marg between the ring road and jnu was closed off to traffic by youth that had blocked the road outside the police station. The incident had happened the previous evening, following which the family of the victim had approached the police. While the police immediately began the medical procedures, it was not until 3pm the next day that the first reports (unattested) of their having filed an FIR came out. That was what sparked the protest since morning.
When I reached, the protestors already amounted to about a hundred people, blocking both sides of the road. Many were at the gates of the police station, with shouts of ‘dilli police sharm karo,’ (“Delhi police, have some shame”) ‘FIR ki copy deni hogi,’ (“You will have to give us a copy of the FIR”). Apart from just the state and the police, included as a target in these rants was the posterboy of political change Mr. Kejriwal, and his associate Somnath Bharti, whose recent stint with racism-stoking (among other allegations of being authoritarian, sexism, encouraging Khaps) has exposed the maggots in his progressive-image. Only a week ago the death of Nido Taniam had come to the front pages, and that had also shed light on other cases of violations on women from North-Eastern India. This was insult to injury, and that was evident all around. Among the protestors were a large number of youth from the North East settled in Delhi. Some studying in JNU (which is close-by), some residing in Munirka Village who work in Delhi. Other students, and student organizations, from JNU were present too. There is a fair amount of to-and-fro that happens between JNU and Munirka Village, a road apart from each other, since many students and ex-students, apart from friends of students, from many different parts of the country, rent in inexpensive rooms out there. The protestors had managed to draw a sizeable number of bystanders and passers-by. The press was all over the place, but none of the big names that clamour to keep the nation informed (of what?) each evening.
Between the police station’s gates and the protestors were a few of the constabulary and some sub-inspectors, armed with sticks and wearing riot-gear. Soon enough, the protestors were large enough to push their way, break open the gates and reach the courtyard of the police station, where they entered into fray with a larger number of policemen. Slogans continued even when the police were scuffling with the marching protestors. Soon the police marked the limits with a rope, and the youth occupied the courtyard between the rope and the gate, and continued their demonstration inside the Vasant Vihar police thana. Many still continued the blockade outside. Meanwhile, representatives of the North Eastern community and student organizations were talking with the police officials.
A word about the people gathered at the protest. It is often the contention of the government and the police, and is only furthered by the media, that people who show up at demonstrations are hooligans who do not have any respect for the law, and that they’d do much well behaving as ‘law-abiding citizens’ and going about their daily lives. This idea tries to discredit protest by putting the burden of proof upon those who have actually come out to seek answers, as well as washes the state of all blame by refusing to acknowledge their questions. People who had gathered at the protest were not just high seditionists or edgy hooligans; some had newly enrolled for courses in JNU the last semester; many had come hearing about the incident from other friends of theirs; some of them were simply passing by, carrying on their lives as citizens as it were, and got curious about what was happening. One such, an elderly lady who seemed to have been returning from work, was disturbed – but not surprised – to hear of the rape. She said, “These people (the police) won’t do anything. They are hand in glove with the landlords of Munirka. They are like dogs – upon seeing morsels, they do as are told.” Another woman, her friend, remarked how this keeps happening despite all the hue and cry that was raised last time during the 16th December protests. “One should throw stones there (she pointed to the police station); maybe then they will realize the pain one suffers by such acts.” I was filled with joy talking to them; as I said earlier, they weren’t ideologues or professional rioters (which is actually a profession that enjoys the state’s immunity somehow), just people going about their lives. There was one called Nilakantu who was studying history. He was trying to get a message across by entering the police station (everyone’s right as a citizen) when he got smacked hard on the sides of his abdomen and had to move back outside the crowd of protestors. He was about five feet tall, wore specs, and had freckles on his cheeks. Later on he showed me how the police attacked him, which was strangely funny to both of us, maybe also because by now he wasn’t in as much pain.
Meanwhile, the barrage of slogans continued inside. In sometime, representatives came out saying that the police had assured them that an FIR would be lodged, and that they had told them the sections of the penal code under which the accused would be booked (they however failed to tell us what sections those would be). By this time, a lot of riot police had gathered with sticks, shields and riot gear, which this time also included motorcycle and cricket helmets. They almost equalled the protestors in number. Since the police was also requesting us to halt the protest and return, we surmised that this was just a ruse, and continued sloganeering, and tried to march further across the rope. This led to further scuffle. This time, I got punched (as amusingly feebly as Nilakantu got smacked) by a police inspector (three stars on his shoulder) who was also muttering “behenchod (sisterfucker)”. One gentle constable, seeing that women at the forefront were also being pushed in the scuffle, requested them to leave the crowd and come on the side of the police. But others weren’t as clement; during the scuffle, a girl tripped on the rope and fell back, and another fell on her, both due to being pushed by the police. Three of us tried to shield their side from the police by holding the rope firm so that they could get up, but it took a while, with the police uncompromisingly pushing. Meanwhile, a girl who had crossed the rope was now being pushed by male policemen with all impunity; that was clearly a violation, and it went on till about fifty seconds, in which time we shouted violently that this was illegal. A woman constable was rushed to the spot, but by this time, the representatives (“leaders”) came and said enough pressure had been put, and that we could continue demonstrating without trying to march further inside. The police seemed satisfied with this. Many of the protestors thought this was a sell-out, and continued in same vigour for another minute; but meanwhile others kept persuading them that this could lead to a lathi-charge, and would dissipate the protest.
Meanwhile, I came out to find another scuffle on the other side of the road. A person on a motorcycle allegedly rode into a group of protestors, hoping that this would give him way (a common trick among bikers in Delhi); nobody was pleased, and he would have had it, if not for interventions by others protesting who called against this kind of diversive violence. The biker made matters worse by saying he was also from JNU, which rightfully invigorated the mood against him. Anyhow, his pleaders managed to save him. It later turned out that not only was he a student in JNU, but also a realty agent in Munirka. I realized that among the crowds were also other landlords of Munirka, who gathered and began discussing what had happened. It was from them that I overheard where exactly the act was committed, who committed it, and so on. Apparently, the news had spread by word of mouth, since little had as yet come in the media. I was approached by another passer-by who asked what this was all about. I told him. He asked if the girl was a nepalan (Nepali; many immigrants from Nepal reside in Munirka). I told him no, a Manipuri, and asked how does it matter. He replied saying that most immigrants in Munirka Village run dhandha (“business”; a euphemistic way of sleazily referring to prostitution). I told him he was talking nonsense, and he repeated his nonsense with full conviction and left.
All prejudice and violence in our political spectrum gets cloaked in seemingly moral excuses: police and state violence is overlooked as ‘service to law and order.’ Similarly, we target Africans and North-Eastern people with covert excuses, like blaming them for sex and drug rackets, rather than airing openly our racist prejudices (and here ‘openly’ means strictly within the political class, who doubtlessly knows that there exist tendencies called racism, casteism, communalism, etc., but just refuse to call their spade a spade; how far the residents' welfare associations this political class represents is aware of these tendencies I don’t know). We express our dislike for the poor and working class by judging them filthy, unmannered, and violent, despite leeching off them as much as possible. In fact, here I would suggest that race is also a question of class in our society, as most of these incidents of targeted racial violence involve people who are from the working class. On the one hand, the police doesn’t file a complaint coming from somebody without many resources; it makes them ‘compromise’ with the accused, especially when the accused happens to be from ‘respectable society’. This came out in the open with Nido Taniam’s death, but happens all the time. On the other hand, respectable society tries evening out all differences by criminalizing the culture of the working class. I’ll end with an interesting thing I noticed at today’s protest: one of the protestors had come with a baseball bat quietly held in his hands, which were folded around his back. He stayed for the entire protest just holding on to it, as if making a symbolic point. I was scared he might actually use it (strangely, I wasn’t as scared about the much more violent potential that Delhi Police had at that time); but he didn’t. It was just to… Now wouldn’t we like to ignore all that riot gear, all that tear gas and say to the guy with the baseball bat, ‘Laddie, don’t go about rioting, don’t go about breaking the law’?

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