Delhi’s Jantar Mantar closed for protests



I was very sad to read that the Delhi government has, under the pretext of the violation of ‘environmental laws’ closed the protest site at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The order was carried out this morning evicting and  razing the temporary shelters of protestors.

For those that don’t know, the street was a kind of Speakers Corner crossed with an Occupy site that allowed a very limited amount of protests to be carried out by those with a grievance. The street – adjacent to the famous monument – was chosen as a protest site in 1993 after the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid movement raised security concerns and the government banned protests at previous demonstrations sites. The Jantar Mantar site was one of the few places where people in the city could protest and let off steam. It was also a fascinating place to walk through and see just what kind of issues affected everyday Indians – and their faith in their democratic right to that protest.

I’d been to a few demonstrations at the Jantar Mantar over the years. They never made great pictures – the gatherings – the pushing and shoving with the police were formulaic and regimented by the authorities. However,  it was always heartening to see the faith that especially the rural poor – many of whom had come from all over the country to shout about their (usually myriad) grievances – displayed. Heartening but of course ultimately futile: policy in India is rarely affected by such organised protests and increasingly one sees that cold, hard hand of the State for what it really is. As a symbol for where modern India is moving the broken tents and the tarpaulin of protesters scattered across the street that I’ve seen this morning in the Indian media could not however be more telling. How similar they look to the scenes that I’m reading about in Kathputli Colony as well today as the authorities seem to have finally decided to tear that Colony down for ‘development’. You can read about my previous writings on Kathputli here.

I leave you with two images. The first from the Jantar Mantar, not of a protest but of what I remember best from the place – engaged activists talking and debating. Creating a space where people were able to discuss their city. The second, from Kathputli in 2014 of local residents discussing the future of their slum colony that had clearly already been decided long ago for them.

Both of these spaces – so crucial to cities are now areas where the poor and voiceless are systematically excluded – and thus from the narrative of Delhi. It’s enough to make you wonder who these cities are actually for…


Two men talk by a demonstration near the Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, India


A local meeting of residents and activists at Kathputli Colony that is faced with destruction and closure, New Delhi, India


Delhi’s century and the case of the missing statues…



“We are pleased to announce to Our People that on the advice of Our Ministers tendered after consultation with Our Governor-General in Council, We have decided upon the transfer of the seat of the Government of India from Calcutta to the ancient Capital Delhi….” (Quoted in New Delhi Making of a Capital, Malvika Singh and Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Roli Books, 2009)

With that on 12 December 1911, George V sealed Calcutta’s fate as British India’s capital city. Delhi, itself a city of seven (perhaps more) kingdoms became the new political centre of India.

Today, a forgotten, dusty patch of land is all that remains of the Delhi Durbar site; an obelisk marking the spot where George made his speech, Ozymandias like now in its echo. Most Delhi-wallahs know nothing about it, nor the park adjacent which holds statues of Imperial notables and a likeness of the King himself that, until the 1960s, stood beneath a Chhatri next to India Gate.

I first visited the place in 2005 and found, with some difficulty, a silent park off a minor road next to the main highway. Last week, in search of story about New Delhi’s first century as capital I drove out again only to find the place in ruins. Much to my and my taxi driver’s amazement the place was being demolished by hand by day labourers. It seemed to me that some of the statues had gone or were at least moved (although I cannot confirm if this is true or indeed how many) and certainly some of the plinths had been destroyed.

I am by no means a fan or apologist for the Raj – indeed as I’ve written before I hold very little truck with romantic India but I was  dismayed that such a crucial piece of India’s history looked so … desolate. I haven’t had chance to ascertain exactly what the plans for this remote graveyard of empire might be but I sincerely hope that they are, as the foreman told me, to restore the place. If true, it is, like the Commonwealth Games building saga, a very furiously last minute – very Indian – job.

It could all of course be a dastardly case for Delhi’s detective extraordinaire, Vish Puri


The first image was taken in 2005 – the rest are as I found the site last week:

India - Delhi - Statues of British Imperial notables, with Lord Hardinge, Viceroy Of India (1911-1916) to the right at the Coronation Park next to the site of the Delhi Durbar of 1911


India - Delhi - Commemorative obelisk at the Coronation Park marking the throne of George V during the Delhi Durbar of 1911
India - Delhi - Commemoration Plaque below the Obelisk that gives the date of the Delhi Durbar of 1911


India - Delhi - Statue of Sir Guy Fleetwood Wilson at the Coronation Park next to the site of the Delhi Durbar of 1911


India - Delhi - Women construction workers demolishing the Coronation Park next to the site of the Delhi Durbar of 1911


India - Delhi - Security guards watched over by the statue of George V next to the site of the Delhi Durbar of 1911


Finally, the Chhatri that originally housed the statue of George V in the shadow of India Gate –


India - New Delhi - The empty canopy next to India Gate that originally held the statue of George V