His dying did what his staying alive didn’t. As news of ex-serviceman Ram Kishan Grewal’s suicide spread, the sleepy streets of protest capital, Jantar Mantar, woke up to a fresh rebellion. Awakening to a new purpose after the demise of Grewal, it once again filled itself with loud sloganeering, government lamenting and furious name calling on November 2. As news wires made the departed soul their headlines, the neglected street of Jantar Mantar got a new life; at least for the next few days till the One Rank One Pension (OROP) commotion doesn’t settle down.
After which, this hotbed of revolts will once again don a silent demeanour. Once a street ruled by rebels, it has now submitted itself to muffled voices and vulnerable emotions. But in this sea of lost hopes, a new entrant has come with fresh energy. His ways of getting heard are largely imprudent, but he still makes a great effort. Saurabh Kumar Singh of Uttar Pradesh dons a dysfunctional white speaker, torn white trousers and shirt, and a voice loud enough to reach the heavens. He runs from around venting his frustration.
He is protesting against the owner—Arvind Maurya of Mirzapur, UP—of the factory where he used to work, for forcefully taking his money and school certificates. He doesn’t want to waste time sleeping, eating or playing chess, he told us, looking condescendingly towards the people in the shelter next to him. “People here told me to find a spot and relax till I see somebody who is from a news channel or a newspaper,” he said, adding, “But I am here to get justice. Even the President will have to hear me out, but
I hope he does that before I too join the list of those who didn’t make it alive from here.” A wave of scepticism has seeped through the protesters. Hopelessness has sucked the justice-seeking spirit out of its impermanent residents. Days are just numbers. Time doesn’t pass. Nothing changes. Humans seem to be withering away. Every corner you turn, you see tired eyes and exhausted expressions. Even the cow brought by the cow vigilantes in 2014, seems to be on a protest. “She doesn’t eat nowadays,” said Jaipal Singh, who has been campaigning against cow slaughter.
A sweeper from the area tells us it has become a place for people to live off government fund. “Who wants to work if you’re getting a stipend covering your cost of living?” he said. “People come and go, and nobody’s ever gained anything by being here.”
He points towards 35-year-old Santosh Murat Singh, one of the oldest protesters at Jantar Mantar. Singh, a Rajput, was ostracised by his community for marrying a Dalit girl. In his absence, his relatives declared him dead and performed his last rites. He has been fighting to get back his 12.5-acre land seized by his relatives 12 years ago. Disappointment has become the order of the day here as the mystery regarding the future of its residents is becoming murkier. It’s beginning to make many wonder if the purpose of the street is fast becoming obsolete?
“After taking a bath in the morning, we sit in our place to start a new game. At least we’re winning or losing in something,” says Altaf, who has been protesting against the termination of 3,000 sacked Hero Honda workers because they agitated against the exploitative working conditions in their factory in Tapukara, Rajasthan. On the sly, a parking attendant tells us the group has nothing better to do in life. “Working in a factory is far tougher than lazing around at Jantar Mantar.”