Singing at Jantar Mantar

I spent this evening at the protest in Jantar Mantar, and it was a mix of so many emotions. As KS and I got there, our first impression was simply deep sadness at the way this protest has been completely hijacked by men with their own agendas... when we got there, there were maybe 20 men to each woman present, possibly more. Many were there to represent political parties, with their waving tricolors and their cries of "rahul gandhi hai hai" (umm, yeah, i don't know).

After spending a few moments at each of the noisy groups, we decided to go join one of the silent protests instead. Then we walked to each silent group and found all of the messaging too disturbing — it was mostly about hanging and castration for the culprits, with a generous sprinkling of the "tomorrow, it could be your sister... wake up and save women" variety. Not wanting to lend our presence to any of those groups and messages, we finally called up some folks who were going to join us later and asked them to bring us pens and paper so we could create our own messages.

Then we came across one young woman who had been standing alone for a long time, holding a message about taking every act of violence against women seriously. We started talking to her and found that this college student had been standing there, protesting alone, for days now because she wanted to be there but did not want to associate with any of these groups. At last, a voice of sanity. We stuck around with her, lighting candles. When our pens and papers arrived, KS created a "I am not your mother, daughter, or sister... but you should still care" placard, and I created one that read "I am not here for vengeance; I am here for solidarity." For a while, we (along with NB who had joined us by now) stood in one line, holding our placards and our candles.

After a while, we decided to sit down in a semicircle, and then somehow, we started singing. Tu zinda hai, tu zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar; agar kahin hai swarg toh utaar la zameen par (really rough translation: You are alive, believe in the victory of life; if there is a heaven somewhere, bring it down to earth) to begin with. Then several renditions in Hindi and English of We shall overcome, specifically the stanzas about "We are not afraid" and "we are not alone." Then Itnee shakti hume de na data/ man ka vishwaas kamzor ho na (roughly: "Give us so much strength that the confidence in our hearts doesn't weaken"). A few other songs too. The singing drew people's attention to our little sit-in, and several people stopped by to light more candles or leave diyas in front of us.

At some point, one man sat down in our group and started his "Down with Manmohan Singh" sloganeering. After some internal debate, I found the courage to politely inform him that his agenda was not ours, that our message was different from his, that I would rather he join one of the groups that shared his message and leave us to talk about solidarity and coming together. He looked surprised, but he agreed to leave us our space. We ended up being one of the only groups comprised mainly (actually only, except for some kids) of women.

Other women and young children joined our singing. Every time one of the all-men political party kind of sloganeering groups would pass us with their chants, we would sing louder, work at drowning them out in our women's and children's chorus of we are not afraid, we are not alone, and we shall overcome, in Hindi and in English. I have never been part of such a powerful, joyful, obstinate sing-along.

By the time we left, I felt so much better. I felt proud that we had, in some small way, taken back our space, our protest. Proud that, even as we mourn, we had been able to talk about hope, about moving forward, about fearlessness. Above all, I felt proud that we had been able to sing instead of being silenced.