Mumbai: Occupy Dalal Street, the Indian version of the Occupy Wall Street movement, kicked off at a short distance from the Street on Friday, with a paltry crowd shouting anti-capitalist slogans and the contingent of police and media persons outnumbering them.
On Friday morning, the police cordoned off the 29-storey Phiroze Jeejeebhoy Towers in downtown Mumbai on Dalal Street that houses Asia’s oldest bourse, the Bombay Stock Exchange, or BSE, as TV vans clustered to cover the event that had a vociferous build-up on social networking sites. But the protesters only showed up about half an hour before market close.
Muted show: Protesters outside the BSE building on Dalal street, Mumbai. By Nisha/Mint
Though the key equity indices were trading higher, the Street was less crowded than normal and the only indication of any protest was the wall posters, mostly written in Marathi.
“This is a no-protest zone and they will not be allowed to enter Dalal Street. As you can see, police have blocked the area. They may protest over there (Horniman Circle) and will be arrested and driven away,” a BSE security officer said in morning.
A few minutes past 3 pm, protesters began trickling in to Horniman Circle, near the Reserve Bank of India headquarters, shouting slogans, holding red flags and placards opposing corruption, privatization of banks and other issues that have come to the fore in the recent outbreak of scandals and scams.
Unlike Zuccotti Park in New York, where lobbyists from all walks of life rallied to support Occupy Wall Street, the Dalal Street crowd mostly consisted of bank trade union members. Their noise grew louder after a group led by Communist Party of India leader Prakash Reddy joined them.
The media was eager to capture the action, but the police whisked the protesters away in jeeps and vans.
“Reserve Bank of India has put out a list of wilful defaulters and they are fronting big companies,” Reddy said, naming India’s large corporate houses.
“We are doing it for you. We are doing it for the unemployed. Up, up socialism; down, down capitalism,” a protester kept shouting.
Though the opening day of the movement did not match the support it got on the Internet, the organizers are confident it will gather steam in the coming days. The next campaign is scheduled for 8 November.
“This will catch fire. It was working hours for many and I am told many more are coming in. It is a continuous movement and our demands are important,” said Vishwas Utagi, general secretary, All India Bank Employees Association, or AIBEA, the trade union platform of the Communist Party of India.
“Banks’ non-performing assets of over Rs 3 trillion need to be recovered. We want a ban on commodity futures because that is one of the reasons for price rises. We want cheap farm and housing loans. Wilful defaulters are mainly politicians, bureaucrats and top bankers, and their properties should be forfeited,” Utagi said. He was released two hours after his arrest.
“We will hold a rally from Hutatma Chowk to Azad Maidan on 8 November,” he said, adding that similar protests are going on in Delhi, Kochi and Hyderabad, apart from eight districts in Maharashtra, including Aurangabad, Kohlapur and Nagpur.
Occupy Wall Street, a series of demonstrations in New York City based in Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district, were initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters to protest social and economic inequality, corporate greed, corruption and the financial services sector’s influence over government.
The protesters’ slogan, “We are the 99%”, refers to the difference in wealth in the US between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population.
The first protest was on 17 September. By early October, similar demonstrations were either ongoing or had been held in 70 major cities and over 600 communities in the US.
Protests modelled on this theme have occurred in over 900 cities worldwide.
India is said to be the 83rd country to join the worldwide protest.