As this reporter travels to the heartland of the ongoing Gujjar agitation in and around Bharatpur in Rajasthan, he, along with photographer Madhu Kapparath, meets the protesters, stomachs abuses, speaks to community leader Kirori Singh Bainsla, runs short of diesel on the way back to New Delhi, and returns with some tales and vignettes from the two-day trip.
Monday, 26 May
5pm: An automobile workshop at Badarpur on Delhi-Haryana border.
Bharatpur is still far. I am on the road with Madhu and driver Sonu, who decides to get the spare tyre fixed.
Sonu is a bit tense since we aren’t taking the main highways, which are closed due to the agitation by the Gujjars (but it turned out to be incorrect information).
10.30pm: A dhaba (roadside eatery frequented by truckers).
Songs from the new hit Haryanvi album Naya Lifafa are playing. Truckers are worried about our plan. “You are going to Bayana (in Bharatpur district)? Are you mad?”
Karwadi, the nerve-centre of the agitation, is just 2km away. The police stops us. “Oh press people. Have you informed the protesters that you are coming?” asks the officer. I replied in the negative. He chuckles. “Go on. You will know what I am talking about.”
I call several Gujjar leaders unsuccessfully. Finally, someone answers: “Oh press. I have been receiving these calls for quite sometime now. I am not a Gujjar leader,” he hangs up.
Time to sleep. A cowshed (converted into a police rest-house) is our shelter for the night.
Tuesday, 27 May
“Ram, Ram bhai saab.” I greet the Gujjar protesters. And, as times passes, they become friendly.
As we survey a burnt bus, someone runs to us and says, “Colonel sir (as Bainsla is known) wants to meet you.”
Bainsla is sitting in a jeep wearing a large maroon turban. “I cannot travel because I hear there are shoot-at-sight orders. How do you think I will meet my end?” he asks. “Whatever it is, I am convinced that I am fighting for a just cause.”
At the Bayana government guest house, a closed-door meeting is on (the principal secretary of water resources is talking to the army and police), and we’re curious.
Someone tells us that the meeting is about conducting post-mortem of the bodies of the 12 protesters who died when the police opened fire at Karwadi.
11.30am: Bharatpur town
The cashier at a restaurant we walked in seems well-informed: “The situation has been eased a bit by temporarily transferring the Meena police officers out of this place; Gujjar officers have been brought in here.”
Wednesday, 28 May
9.30am: 20km away from Bharatpur on the Jaipur road
Closed petrol pumps don’t mean anything to the nomadic shepherds and camel herders. Ramnath from the Bagadia community tells us: “There is some problem happening with the Gujjars. The government will take care of it.”
“I am out of diesel,” says Sonu. Every fuel pump around is closed. A pump operator at a closed petrol bunk says: “Get the SDM’s (sub-divisional magistrate) signature and we will give you diesel.”
Soon, we are at the SDM’s office. “Supplies from the Mathura depot have stopped, since the depot is apprehensive about sending fuel into the sensitive region. Fuel is now available only for government vehicles and in case of emergencies,” he says.
We head for a pump at Maujpur, about 5km away. The pump operator speaks to the inspecting officer and agrees to give 7 litres of fuel.
A helicopter hovers over Sikandara, the second major site of the Gujjar agitation. The protesters yell at it, raising their axes. That’s battle cry.
But there’s more ahead.
The road is blocked by the coffins of those killed in the police firing.
“Our hearts are broken. What is left? They can take our lives, but we will stand our ground,” an angry Gujjar says, assuring us enough fuel from a bunk that he says is open 24 hours a day. We get 25 litres, apart from bananas, tea and an offer for lunch of roti and vegetables.
4.30pm: On the road to Jaipur
A group of truckers idling away at a dhaba ask: “Any sign of them opening the road for us?” Some abuse follows. “What a nuisance,” they add.
1.30am: Back in New Delhi.