January 27, 2013
NEW DELHI: The tableaux from the Republic Day parade were still being driven out when students, teachers and activists started gathering at the Mandi House metro station for an alternate, “Freedom Parade.” They want “Bekhauf Azaadi” (freedom without fear) for women and implementation of the Justice Verma committee report. After thumb-wrestling the police for permission to gather and march on Republic Day, a crowd of over a 1,000 people walked to Jantar Mantar where there were at least five protests – on much the same issues – already in progress.
“Republic Day is not about people being spectators,” says Kavita Krishnan of All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), “We are the people who constitute the republic.” The main demand of the marchers of the parade is that the government implement the recommendations in the Justice Verma committee report. “There are many recommendations that don’t have to wait for the budget session,” says Krishnan, “But the government is trying to scuttle. It probably didn’t expect the report to come or that it would reflect to such an extent what we have been saying.”
Members of the Health Education and Environment Awareness Society had designed a banner with “Tableaux of today’s real India.” It depicted a range of evils from rape and female foeticide to drug abuse. Members from street-vendor rights group, NASVI, were present because the Justice Verma committee report agrees with what they’ve been saying from the start, “You should encourage street vendors because they make their areas safe.”
The march drew out several Kashmiris, new faces at these protests, who joined because they are pleased with the committee’s stand on AFSPA and its recognition of rapes by soldiers in conflict areas. “We celebrate the committee report. We had submitted our own recommendations and highlighted cases of sexual violence in conflict areas,” says Binalakshmi Nepram who runs a pro-disarmament organization in Delhi.
Jantar Mantar was the setting for several protests organized by Chhatra Yuva Sankalp Samiti, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan, Redefining India Campaign, a “public forum” called “16 December Kranti” and another group on a hunger strike. Arvind Kejriwal had joined the first group for a few minutes. Many members of the audience signed a pledge and a petition for the Prime Minister prepared by the All India Democratic Women’s Organization (AIDWA) on their way out of the Republic Day parade. They collected over 1200 signatures.
The parade culminated in an award show. Chattisgarh police officer, Ankit Garg is now twice decorated. Allegedly the one who supervised torture of Soni Sori, Garg being awarded the Gallantry award on Janaury 26, last year had angered many. On this Republic Day, the Bekhauf Azaadi campaigners awarded him the “Mardangi Mariada” and “Lakshman Reha” medals. He’ll have to share this dubious honour with six others – Botsa Satyanarayana because he felt the gang rape victim hadn’t been careful, Abhijit Mukherjee of “dented-painted” fame, Kailash Vijayvargiya for speaking up for the Lakshmanrekha, Abu Azmi who’s doesn’t want women to step out unchaperoned, Mohan Bhagwat for in his war against shirts and jeans – Krishnan points out that the RSS’s shorts aren’t Indian either – and Asaram Bapu for his rape-prevention checklist for women which involves a prayer and calling the attacker “brother.”