As a journalist in Delhi, I have spent at least a couple of days every month at Jantar Mantar, the premier protest venue since the early 1990s. On some days mega rallies take place under the gaze of dozens of cameras. But even after the crowds have left, the space is dotted with small groups of people who simply want to be heard. I spent one late summer afternoon exploring some of the more esoteric groups, bored with the long-winded speeches of the rally I had been assigned to cover. After a few minutes each at protests by railway coolie workers, PDS traders, and self-described anarchists, I stopped by a group of women gathered around a portrait of a young girl. The girl was a high-schooler from a Gujarati community in northern Delhi, and had been harassed by a man for several months. Days before her final school exams, she fell to her death. Local police ruled it an accident.
Her neighbours were there to demand a thorough investigation, suspecting that she had either been pushed or killed herself. There were too few facts to write a news report. In any case, the women seemed more interested in telling me about the girl’s life than her death. I may have forgotten every aspect of the rally I was there to cover, but I will never forget that the girl’s favourite sweets were jalebis, that she loved to dance the dandiya, and that her family wanted her to become a teacher.
While protesters may come and go, there are some constant faces at Jantar Mantar. In my early days in the city, a veteran reporter told me how to bypass the crowds at large rallies, the place to stand for the best view of both the crowd and the stage, and which vendors on the side streets served unhygienic food. Those vendors are also a good source for an informal estimate of crowd size in comparison to previous protests.