On the day it was meant to rain in Delhi, there was a protest in the city. People wanted to speak out against the growing attacks on the minorities, on the marginalised and disenfranchised. By six in the evening on Wednesday, June 28, a crowd trickled into a pool at Jantar Mantar Road, as people nimbly made their way from the broken pavement after a few of them skidded on the slush that had formed on it. The stage looked striking and elaborate: Two large maps of India showing the number and location of the lynchings of Muslims since 2015 flanked the #NotInMyName poster (a bloodied pair of flip-flops); giant sets of speakers and plenty of lamps for lights.
A man was screaming into a mike, over the mild strains of sitar, asking people to make way or sit down. Sit down where? The chairs seemed to have dissolved in a mass of people.
The air was oppressively dank. It was as though everyone was wading in calf-length water. It was so humid that one woman greeted her friend by saying, "It's too hot to even hug." It even smelled of revolution, or what it should be like, of cigarette smoke, perfume and sweat.
The protest was essentially in the wake of 16-year-old Junaid Khan's murder, who was lynched in a train while he was returning to his home in Faridabad from his Eid shopping in Delhi, on June 22. Filmmaker Saba Dewan had put out an angry Facebook post asking people to join her in protesting against the brutality. She wanted some of those she knew to gather at Jantar Mantar, and demand that these lynchings are stopped. The post went viral. More than 10 cities in India, we are told, including Bombay, Calcutta and Bangalore, took part in the #NotInMyName protest.
On stage, Dewan spoke about how shameful it is for the people to ask the government for the right to life. When she mentioned the attack on Muslims and Dalits, someone from the crowd cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "and even farmers". There was momentary applause.
It was conspicuous that the Delhi that had assembled in large droves was privileged and well-heeled. A woman standing behind me compared notes with her friend on who in the gathering is sporting the best sari. This is not to say that people from all walks of life weren’t there, or aren’t sick to the stomach at the impunity and of this slow and calibrated war the State has been waging on its people over the food they eat, their beliefs, their private lives, their religion. This brainwashing that is giving Hindus grand delusions and a sense of entitlement over this land, this strange sense of belief and the right that if they can shout and blame someone for eating "beef", it grants them a licence to get away with murder and worse.
This pretence that these attacks are not indicative of a pattern forming all over the country that it has silent approval of the powers that be. A friend and a journalist at the protest told me she had just interviewed a man who said unabashedly that he had indeed voted for Narendra Modi in 2014. But he wants the prime minister to rein in the madmen on a killing spree. This isn’t who he had voted for, what he had voted for.
As I essayed through the crowd I found many a familiar face. It was worrying how many people I know who are here, someone said. It means that there are so few of us who feel this way. There was a palpable existential crisis among those who are in attendance: Is this protest of any larger consequence?
Is it a success, a social gathering, or is it a flop show? Will this actually engineer, transform into a movement?
The performances on the stage, riveting though some of them were, got mostly drowned by the din of the people, some noticeably angry and some excited.
From the distance I saw the son of Pehlu Khan – the Rajasthani dairy farmer who was lynched in Alwar not too long ago for being accused of cattle smuggling – speaking. The desperation in his voice evinced the helplessness and sadness at the futility of the law.
It was electric at that moment. There was lightning above us. Dark clouds hovered as though waiting for an opportune moment to burst and unleash their fury. An hour later, the protest was cut short by torrid rain. While some started singing protest songs in the rain, others ran to hide, wanting to protect their smartphones.
I overheard someone telling his friend, "This is beautiful. The rain befits the moment. But somehow I didn't feel anything."
"This is not about you," his friend tersely replied.