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One road to the Gateway
A Ganesh Nadar at the Gateway of India | December 03, 2008 22:37 IST
The biggest problem for the rallyist was that there was only one road to the Gateway of India where the rallyists were to congregate. All other roads to the monument had been blocked. So the rallyist had to go in and come out the same way. As long as the crowd was moving in, all was well.
The rally started half an hour before the announced 6 pm. By the time it was 6 there was no breathing space. To add to the crowd's dilemma, the Rapid Action Force had taken up half the area in front of the Gateway.
The RAF stood heavily armed and glared at the rallyists in a manner that the British would have been proud of during the Raj.
At 7.30 pm a group of youngsters sang the National Anthem, signaling that the rally had ended. The crowd then started moving out on the same road that people were still coming in. To add to this mass of humanity's misery were television cameras on either side.
Each time the crowd spotted a television camera pointed in its direction it stopped moving. People started shouting slogans and kept looking up to make sure the people at home saw them.
Then, a young girl fainted and collapsed. She was pulled out of the crowd by four other girls who dragged her to the road alongside the Taj Mahal hotel [Images].
But Taj employees did not allow the girls to proceed along that road to safety. As old women, young mothers with children and a boy with polio struggled to make their way, only the intervention by a journalist compelled the Taj employees to allow the women to use their precious road.
Photographer Atul Loke was sitting quietly on this offending road to take a breather. The RAF men asked him to leave. He refused. They first pushed him and when that did not work, hit him in the stomach with rifle butts. He collapsed.
When this correspondent went looking for the RAF men he was stopped by Taj employees. He was told, "That journalist was only injured, you might get killed. Don't tangle with the RAF." When we insisted on finding the RAF men responsible for assaulting Atul, we were told by the Taj employees, "You are brave, but we fear for your life, so we cannot allow you on this road."
The Mumbai police officers present at the site agreed that any rally must have a point of entry and another point of exit. "We are helpless here," they told us, "all the roads around the Taj are manned by Taj security and not us."
Do the roads around the Taj belong to the state or the hotel?
In spite of unprecedented crowds, in spite of no help from the police, there was no stampede. For that mercy, at a time when all seems bleak, one can only thank God.
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