Delhi gangrape: Cameras long gone, a schoolboy, a trader, a mother still hold out

The three words shook the lawns of India Gate. They forced the national capital into a lockdown in the days leading to the New Year. They resonated across the nation for weeks post the night of December 16, when a 23-year-old paramedic student was brutally gangraped aboard a moving city bus.

The cry awoke the consciousness of a nation and rattled the power corridors of Delhi. When India Gate was denied to them, they gathered at Jantar Mantar, in thousands, to shout slogans and light candles. Three weeks on, their numbers have dwindled to 150. The television cameras are long gone. But at Jantar Mantar, the cry can still be heard. "We want justice."

It is a motley group of people who still gather at Jantar Mantar. Some are part of groups like the 'Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti'. Others represent political outfits like the Aam Aadmi Party and the Communist Party of India. A majority are school students, taking advantage of an extended winter vacation. Families mill about, too, with several saying that "it is our duty to take out some time to come to Jantar Mantar, if we want things to really change".

They have differing views. A few like the idea of chemical castration for sexual offenders, while the rest argue for capital punishment. But all it takes is for one person to raise the slogan, and they all go up in unison. "We want justice."

Two of those at Jantar Mantar have embarked on an extreme path to register their protest — a hunger strike. One of them is Tejinder Singh Bagga, president of the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena. "The Sena has a list of 12 demands from the Central government, which includes capital punishment for rapists and no presidential pardon or commutation of death sentence in case it is given. This is the fourth day of my hunger strike."

The other person on hunger strike, Babu Singh, is in his seventh day, and can't speak anymore. Ask him questions, and he writes his reactions down in Hindi. "I come from Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh. Incidents like these happen every day there, and the only way to make a change is to raise my voice here. I will continue this anshan for 10 days, but I don't want to die. I will find a way to protest at this site afresh after that. There have to be some people who will take the fight forward," he wrote. Both Bagga and Singh lie under tents. A poster near them reads, "We want justice".

Fewer people at the venue also means more space, something that Prakriti Sharma and her daughters have taken advantage of. In the centre of the cordoned-off road, the family has created a memorial for the victim, with a cloth shaped like a body in the middle of the road and candles all around. "People come every day and lay wreaths around the 'body' and pay their respects. This is my way of praying for the victim's soul. I run a cloth store in Chandni Chowk. We have been here since December 24. I am disappointed that the numbers at Jantar Mantar have gone down so much. But I will stay here even if there is no one else left to take up the fight with me," Sharma said.

Surrounding the white cloth, there are close to 15 charts with messages for the government. Some read, "Hang the rapists" and "Fight for the girl who woke us up". But most of them have only a single line — "We want justice".

Only about 50 personnel from the Rapid Action Force now remain at Jantar Mantar to keep an eye on the crowd. Deepak Mohanty, a protester here, says it was only now that his parents allowed him to come to Jantar Mantar. "When the violence at India Gate broke out, my school was still on. My parents were watching it on TV and they didn't let me come because they were afraid that the situation would erupt again. Now that things are calmer, they let me come. In school, too, we are planning to hold a candlelight march on the first day after classes resume — January 14. I'm glad that the winter has forced the vacation to be extended till January 13. It means I can come here every day till then," says this Class XI student.

Deepak has with him 20 other friends. On the signature campaign being organised at one end of Jantar Mantar, they decide to write a combined note. Titled, "To ..., from the youth", they go on to scribble a poem one of them has composed. The last line says — "For You ..., We want Justice".

Carrying her four-year-old daughter in her arms, Aparajita Singhal, a housewife from Greater Kailash tells to a group standing around her, "On earlier occasions, I came alone. With violence a possibility, I left Tamanna (she point to her child) at home. But today, I brought her because I wanted her to be a part of this. In 20 years, she will be the same age as the woman who was raped and murdered. And if things have to change by then, then people have to raise their voice. I want to teach Tamanna to raise her voice against injustice and that starts now."

The group broke out into applause and one person asked, "Do you want to say this through the mike? Address the crowd?" Singhal refuses, but the man persists. He asks the child, "Aap bolo na mummy ko bolne ke liye?" She may not have understood the essence of the words, but having heard it all around, little Tamanna smiles, digs her face into her mother's shoulders, and says softly, but audibly, "Mamma wants justice."

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