A completely unnecessary and ugly scuffle at India Gate, between the cops and #JusticeForRohith protesters marked the end of the opening day of the Budget Session, which itself was marred by acrimonious spar between the opposition and the HRD minister, Smriti Irani.
The protesters were gathered for a candlelight vigil demanding that Smriti Irani and MoS labour Bandaru Dattatreya be sacked. The police claimed that they didn't have official permission to gather there, however a small number of protesters started assembling at India Gate around 5pm.
Soon after, Delhi Police personnel from Tilak Road police station told the demonstrators that they would not be allowed to hold a candlelight vigil without permission, despite the latter trying to convince the cops that all they wanted was to be able to make their point peacefully.
Meanwhile, CRPF soldiers and cops started cordoning off the spot where the protesters wished to light candles. Two DTDC buses were seen parking right in front of the gathered crowd.
"I don't know why the buses are here so soon; we haven't started the vigil yet," remarked a student from Hyderabad, his unlit candle was sticking out of the pocket along with a pen.
As the handful of protestors continued to persuade the police to let them light candles as it was an apolitical, peaceful gathering in solidarity with the late Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, the recalcitrant cops stood their ground and refused.
|Candlelight vigil for Rohith Vemula at India Gate was rudely disallowed by Delhi cops. [Photo courtesy: Aban]|
Visibly upset, the protesters started raising slogans about justice for Rohith Vemula and alleging that the government is anti-Dalit, while others started lighting candles, in a bid to make it at least a symbolic protest.
While the male protesters were dragged to the bus with limbs flaying accompanied by a lot of shoving and pushing, the cops reluctantly watched the protesting women light candles and hold their ground.
The reason that police couldn't forcibly remove the women from there was the lack of even a single policewoman.
"You allowed a huge rally by ABVP today and you don't allow us to even light a candle for Rohith", a protester was heard telling the police.
Unmoved and by now in more numbers, the police removed the rest of the male protesters; even as they cleared the area of tourists and onlookers who gather everyday at India Gate.
Finally, a lone policewoman was summoned from somewhere and she desperately began pulling the protesting women to the bus. It was a most absurd sight. She was being egged on by her male bosses to "first put the candle out and then take her to the bus".
|Protestors make a protective huddle encircling Rohith's mother Renuka. [Photo courtesy: Aban]|
As the situation seemed to be coming under control, Rohith Vemula's mother Renuka and his brother Raja were seen walking with a few protesters towards the Rashtrapati Bhavan side of India Gate.
This was a complete surprise for the police as they neither had enough women cops, nor the information that this was the late Dalit scholar's mother. It took them a few minutes to gather their wits, but by then other protesters had joined Rohith's mother and brother, eventually forming a protective circle around them.
The candles for Rohith were finally burning, even as they flickered in the evening breeze. The police seemed to have pressed the panic button and in seconds there were sirens blaring with a large number of cops shooing away the swelling crowd of onlookers.
India Gate was suddenly filled with sounds of "Give Justice to Rohith Vemula", and an ever increasing number of policemen. The group of Rohith's batchmates who had come from Hyderabad were cordoned off at the fence surrounding India Gate.
As media filmed the tight circle of protesters, police cameras were seen filming everything, from random people outside the cordoned off area to those shouting slogans.
|Policemen shove male protestors into a bus parked at the spot. [Photo courtesy: Aban]|
"How dare you shoot my video, I am just standing here", a young man was heard telling the policeman with the camera.
"The camera-wielding policemen are as threatening as the ones with lathis. We are just here to remember Rohith. Why are they behaving like this?", asked Namrata, who had come from Noida for this protest.
"I am not from any party, any union; I am here because I care about this. They are stopping us only because we are Dalits", she added.
Rohith's mother, having lit the candle at India Gate, herself led the remaining women protesters out of India Gate, leaving behind her a cloud of dust and an eerie silence filled with cries of #JusticeForRohith.
India Gate never looked so desolate in a long time.