William Whyte surely hit bull’s eye when he called ‘streets the river of life of the city’. Located in the heart of Delhi is one such street which embodies the life of the entire country. Can you guess which street we speak of? Full points to you if you are thinking Jantar Mantar! On any given day if you are in the mood to taste a slice of India’s vibrant democracy, all you have to do is visit this place in Central Delhi. At any point of time this street is dotted with at least 25-30 protest camps. Each year lakhs of Indians come to this part of the city to make their voices heard to anyone and everyone.
Jantar Mantar was not always the hub of protests. Constructed in 1724 this historical site began its career as an observatory meant for practicing astronomers. Built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur this architectural piece of delight was one of the five observatories that this Indian King from Rajasthan had built in different parts of the country. Finding the existing instruments too small, Jai Singh set out to develop Jantar Mantar to provide a place from where movements of sun, moon and other planetary objects could be better observed. The name Jantar Mantar is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘Yantra’ (instrument) and Mantra (formulae) – signifying the purpose for which it was established.
How then did the street that houses Jantar Mantar and is now popularly known by that name become the heart of India’s space of dissent? Around two decades ago, this street was declared as the official venue to stage protests in the capital city of India. It was another protest which led to this announcement. There are three main sites for staging protests in Delhi – the Ram Lila grounds in the north, the grounds at India Gate and the Boat Club in the central part of the city. In 1988, Mahendra Singh Tikait, leading a political outfit called Bharatiya Kisan Sangh had gathered with a huge group of protestors at the Boat Club. Agitating for their rights, a huge number of farmers had camped in the heart of the city along with their cattle! Having paralysed the administration of Delhi for a good number of days, our Parliamentarians decided it was time to declare an official space for protest.
Located close to the Parliament, Jantar Mantar was chosen as a symbolic representation of the lower house of India’s democracy. Thus was established the Hyde Park of India which has since then witnessed an endless number of dharnas and protests. One very interesting protestor who can be found at Jantar Mantar is Mr. Machindranath Suryavanshi. Popularly known as the ‘Joota Mar Baba’ (the shoe thrower), he leads an outfit called Akhil Bharatiya Joota Maro Andonal, which has a unique formula of protest. He helps people in first sending a petition to the concerned official to carry out their duties. If the petition falls on deaf ears, he sends word that the public servant will be duly hit with a shoe as a mark of protest. We leave it to you to decide whether or not this method actually works!
Where: Jantar Mantar, Connaught Place
Nearest Metro Station: Rajiv Chowk