The recent gay pride parade held in June was a riot of colours, a celebration of diversity, and a march against anti-gay laws. It was a procession that demanded freedom of choice and expression. And there could not have been a better place for its culmination than Jantar Mantar, the epitome of freedom of expression and Delhi’s prime demonstration destination. In fact , many DU protest marches / rallies have been known to culminate here..
Jantar Mantar of Delhi, one of the five observatories built by the 18th century Rajput king Maharaja Jai Singh II, has been the site for many a protest, demonstration, procession, strike and dharna ever since the Narsimha Rao government banned rallies at the Boat Club. This choice of location seems to be very apt as it is situated on Parliament Street, which leads up to the Parliament House. The dharnas at Jantar Mantar that have been going on for three to four years are a testament to this fact. Says Sheetal, a little girl holding fort at a bandh with her mother, “We have been here since 2006. We want the government to rehabilitate the Bhuj earthquake victims. There are still a lot of people who have not been given any support and are without shelter.”
Sub-inspector of Police at the Parliament Street Police station, Bhup Singh, said “There is at least one procession here every day. Most of the time the demonstrators restrict themselves to Jantar Mantar, but sometimes, with prior permission of the Police, come onto Parliament Street, in which case we need to block the road and divert traffic”. The traffic is diverted to the parallel road, Jai Singh Marg. This diversion of traffic causes great inconvenience and chagrin to commuters. Says Subroto Das, a retired executive, “the traffic is often diverted( because of the demonstrations). When that happens the buses do not come here. I have to walk a lot to get to the nearest bus stop. This disrupts my routine and is very irritating”. Agrees an employee of a bank located on Parliament Street, “Even though we employees have found alternative routes to reach our office, this almost-daily drama serves as a hindrance to our customers who have trouble reaching the branch. This causes minor losses to our business.” However, some daily commuters have acclimatised to the frequent disruptions. Says Promila, a personal assistant to an MLA, “These protests do not bother me. If one is underway, I simply walk a little to Janpath and catch my bus.”
These protests often get out of hand, and the police have riot control vehicles on standby. “If the protesters get too rowdy, we are forced to use water cannons and tear gas to contain the mob”, adds the Police officer. This tear gas also seeps into the offices on Parliament Street and leaves the employees with their eyes stinging for a long time. Moreover, the noise is an irritant to these employees.