United Against Govt Repression: A Peek into the Heart of a Protest
They chanted slogans, joined in protest songs and clapped hard when others took centre stage. Before they withdrew from public gaze again, The Quint caught up with them to learn about their stories.
They chanted slogans, joined in protest songs and clapped hard when others took centre stage. Before they withdrew from public gaze again, The Quint caught up with them to learn about their stories.(Photo: Shruti  Mathur/The Quint)

United Against Govt Repression: A Peek into the Heart of a Protest

Their stories, often lost in a crowd of protesters, are similar.

Coming from different backgrounds and ground realities, the faceless protesters are joined in spirit as they unite to push back against the State.

An overnight train to Delhi in the general compartment. A sleepless night in an over-crowded bogey. Stepping out of the train in high spirits. Heading straight to the Bangla Sahib Gurdwara for langar (community kitchen meal). Then showing up, well fed, for a day-long protest at the Jantar Mantar.

At one such protest titled ‘Kis kis ko qaid karoge’ (Who all will you cage?), held on 8 June, several groups came together to campaign against the ‘State’s repression.’

While there were several notable names in attendance – like filmmaker Sanjay Kak, Panjab University's first female president Kanupriya, and Bhim Army member Upkar Bawra – many lesser known faces formed the heart of the protest.

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They chanted slogans, joined in protest songs and clapped hard as others took centre stage. 

But before they withdrew from public gaze again, The Quint caught up with them to learn about their stories.

Sourav Banerjee, 23, a member of the Bastar solidarity network, Kolkata chapter, told The Quint

“This programme is very important. This is not only about the Bhima Koregaon violence and the arrests of the ten activists... this is a symptom of a disease that’ll spread. Whenever someone will be critical of the government, they’ll be termed Maoists or Naxals and that is why we are all here. To protect our voice.”

Reaching Jantar Mantar Is Obstacle One

Travelling 750 kilometres in a train from Bhopal to Delhi, 21-year-old Rinku is sleep-deprived. She arrived at the Jantar Mantar protest after sweating in the general compartment all night.

Rinku collects garbage for a living, makes Rs 200 a day and is a member of the Bhopal-based Saheli Mazdoori Sangathan. This sangathan works for the upliftment of women who live in urban slums. It helps these women send their children to schools, counsels those in abusive situations, and works on helping them achieve a better standard of living. Rinku is among the few from her group who made the cut to reach Delhi, and is extremely charged up about it.

Rinky, extreme right, has got her son along as well – his first Jantar Mantar protest. “I want him to understand this world, it is my world,” she says.
Rinky, extreme right, has got her son along as well – his first Jantar Mantar protest. “I want him to understand this world, it is my world,” she says.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

"Chanda ikhatta karna padta hai humein Dilli aane ke liye, aur bhi log aana chahte the lekin chanda 18 logo ka hi mila (Donation had to be collected for us to travel to Delhi, more people wanted to join us but the money we got was only sufficient for us to travel)," Rinku tells The Quint, wearing a self-effacing smile.

The Sangathan consists of 200-250 people from 12 bastis (slums) of Bhopal, Savita who is one of the people who organises them for regular meetings, tells us.

While this is Rinku's first time in Delhi, 40-year-old Devendra is a regular. She catches up with people she has met over decades at the same spot.

Devendra is the secretary of Hyderabad-based Chaitanya Mahila Samiti (CMS), an organisation of about 200 people that also work for the equality and upliftment of women.

When roti and dal is on the menu, Devendra knows she has arrived in Delhi. The Bangla Sahib offers her free food that is a marked departure from her usual rice meal in Hyderabad, but she has no complaints.
When roti and dal is on the menu, Devendra knows she has arrived in Delhi. The Bangla Sahib offers her free food that is a marked departure from her usual rice meal in Hyderabad, but she has no complaints.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

"We got off the train and headed straight to Gurdwara Bangla Sahib to eat roti and daal. Then we came straight here," she says.

Five people came from CMS and like Rinku's Bhopal-based sangathan, many more wanted to be a part of the protest, but couldn’t afford to come. But that wasn’t always a problem for these sangathans.

“Few years ago, it was unofficially understood that we [protestors] would travel for free in trains, no one asked us for money either. However, about five years ago or so that stopped happening. The rules and regulations became stricter and we had to put a cap on how many people could travel. We don’t have as much money.”
Devendra, Secretary, Chaitanya Mahila Samiti

Sukhvinder Kaur, 52, from Bathinda in Punjab, is the general secretary of the Lok Sangram Manch (LSM). Theirs is a red and white flag.

"Our main aim is to help people organise themselves into agitations," Kaur said. She used to work at a hospital as a lab technician for 20 years, while regularly engaging in politics.

While Devendra and Rinku had to pay for their tickets, Sukhvinder got lucky. She says she has never had to pay for a train ride to Delhi.
While Devendra and Rinku had to pay for their tickets, Sukhvinder got lucky. She says she has never had to pay for a train ride to Delhi.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

But unlike the Bhopal-Delhi and Hyderabad-Delhi trains, when The Quint asked Kaur how she managed to travel free of cost from Bathinda to Delhi, she laughs unabashedly and says,

“About 20 of us just picked up our red and white flags and seated ourselves in the train. Some slept through the journey while others chatted away. I have only spent Rs 10 till now.”
Sukhvinder Kaur, General Secretary, Lok Sangram Manch

And like Devendra, they too stopped at the Bangla Sahib for food.

Traveling to Delhi and lending their voice to this protest against the State machinery is their way of contributing to a larger cause. Some of them were invited, but most heard about it on social media.

Different Ground Realities but United in Spirit

Savita from the Shehari Mazdoor Sangathan said she traveled all the way to Delhi because her heart lies with the arrested activists. Many of the slums under this Sangathan are built over unauthorised land and face the perennial threat of eviction.

“These people (activists) work at the grassroots to uplift the lives of people like us. When we heard about Shoma Sen being picked up, it didn’t sit well with any of us. They are good people and are doing good work. We are here to support them. They might not know me but that is not necessary, our hearts are one.”
SAvita, Sehari Mazdoor Sangathan

Devendra from CMS reached Delhi at 8:00 am via Bhopal Express. There are about 300 people at the protest site at this time.

“Whatever the numbers, less or more, the government is definitely looking our way. Otherwise what was the need to keep 10 activists in jail when there are rowdies and cheaters roaming around free, while those who work for the people are in jail? See how important these 10 people are to the government.”

"Shoma Sen used to work with us, I personally felt shattered when she was arrested. We have protested against this ever since in Telangana, in AP as well," Devendra said adding, alluding to the previous conversation on the turnout,  "I have gotten to know that intellectuals from the society are re-thinking appearing for such protests. Many don't show up. The fear is that if they're visible, they'll be next on the list. The fear is real," she says adding she will not disclose their names.

Sukhvinder from Bathinda is here to stand in solidarity.

“It is a very important time for people to come out in large numbers. Our freedom of expression is under threat under this government. This show of strength is needed not only for solidarity with those arrested but also to show the government that we might be divided by states and languages but we will always come around to back each other,” she said.
Sukhvinder
Sourav was present last year, at the same protest, he says the mood this year is comparatively duller.
Sourav was present last year, at the same protest, he says the mood this year is comparatively duller.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Sourav Banerjee, while reflecting on this year’s protest said: "Last year, the mood was very different. This time, from my conversations with people, I gather that on some level they do seem disappointed about the mandate that this government got to come back to power."

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