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Without glitz or glitches, Delhi marches for a cause

April 09, 2011 00:12 IST
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Sahim Salim took part in a march that brought Delhi, and its infamously impatient drivers, to a standstill

When shouts of Vande echo from thousands of people, it becomes difficult to not get sucked into the patriotic fervour and utter Mataram.

When a man declares a fast-unto-death for better governance and the masses respond, it gets difficult to not get inspired.

I have covered many protests and processions in my career, but this one was different.

When Anna Hazare, a 72-year-old ex-armyman, declared an indefinite fast on Tuesday to demand a stringent anti-graft law, many didn't know who he was.

Today, he is the topic of discussion on all social networking sites; he has even managed to make India's triumph at the cricket World Cup a thing of the past. . 

The whole country has responded as one to Hazare's fast. He did not call people out to the streets; they came out on their own.

In Delhi's Jantar Mantar, the figures speak for themselves.

On day 1 of his fast, nearly 1,200 people turned up. By day 4, at least 10,000 people thronged the site to show their support.

Even far more 'glamorous' events -- like the ongoing Fashion Week or the Indian Premier League -- could not distract them.
Sunil Sharma, a prominent Delhi socialite, even carried a placard urging Page 3 personalities to attend the protest. 

"They are influential. This is where they are supposed to be," he declared, sitting on his foldable chair, sporting a hat and a sunglass. 

Another protestor, sports fan Deep Mathur, declared on a placard that the IPL can wait.

A blind man, Hassan Siddiqui, made his way to the square all the way from the older parts of Delhi.  "I am only blind, I can still hear and shout," he asserted. 

There was no official invite; no political party, NGO or association could claim that it was thanks to their efforts that thousands of lawyers, doctors, students, painters and musicians had converged for a common cause.

They had simply responded to news reports on Hazare's fast. They came waving placards and shouting pro-India slogans. For them, this was a revolution and they stopped short of comparing Hazare with Gandhi and the ruling United Progressive Alliance government with the British Raj. 

There was no visible crowd control strategy employed by the organisers, but the event remained peaceful. The tiny square successfully hosted thousands of flag-waving, dhol-thumping and slogan-chanting protestors from varying political ideologies and backgrounds.

At approximately 7 pm, I heard some protestors say that they were planning to march to the India Gate at the heart of Delhi. This seemed interesting, as according to my information, no prior permission had been sought for such a march.

A five-km walk to India Gate by thousands of people, which was likely to disrupt traffic at busy intersections, needed days of planning and permissions form various authorities. When I checked with a police officer in Parliament Street police station, I was told that no such permission had been issued. 

When the time came, nearly 4,000 protestors split up into two groups and pursued two different routes to their destination. I joined the group which was scheduled to take the longer route.

Interestingly, none of the volunteers or organisers of the event were part of this group.

A priest first made this particular group of protestors sit on the road. He just shouted instructions and the people obeyed him obediently.

When he bellowed Vande, they chanted back, Mataram. I could barely resist joining in.

The priest then urged the people in the group to stand up and hold each others' hand to form a human chain. Together, chanting Vande Mataram, they marched.

The protestors took over the road on the left of the divider in Delhi, a city known for its unruly drivers, but none of them dared to honk the demonstrators into submission. Cars waited patiently to let the sea of protestors pass and some of the commuters even joined in to chant Vande Mataram.

There were two major traffic intersections and three roundabouts on the way to India Gate, but the protestors marched on, unchecked and unchallenged. Traffic policemen stopped oncoming traffic for the protestors; much of the traffic stopped on its own to let the protestors pass.

At India Gate, my group joined the other. Slowly, steel plates and spoons were passed to every protestor. Candles were distributed.

Half of the protestors held lit candles, while the other half drummed on their plates with their spoons. Rhyming couplets on anti-corrupt leaders were sung. Some protestors started dancing. There was a pregnant woman drumming. I asked her if she was okay.

"(I am) Happy to be a part of history," she said.

There was a handicapped man in a handicap-friendly bicycle, holding a lit candle. His wife was sitting behind him drumming on her plate.

"Together we can and we will eradicate corruption," they chanted. I asked him if he had wheeled himself all the way from Jantar Mantar.

"Of course," he said in a matter-of-fact manner. 

At approximately 9 pm, as peacefully as they had arrived, the demonstrators dispersed. No glitches, no stampedes and no violence. 

Hazare, with his simple yet powerful words against corruption, had united Delhi to stand together for a cause.  

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