A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay

Updated: August 23, 2011 23:47 IST

A crusade against corruption on the large, historic ground Ramlila Ground in the heart of Delhi. On a stage, a 74-year-old social activist reclines, grey in the face, much more frail today than he was yesterday or the day before. It's been eight days since Anna Hazare began his hunger- strike against graft, his fifth at this ground. So what happens here? What makes thousands of ordinary people brave rain and muggy days in August to stand steadfast? Here's the story captured from Ramlila Maidan – 24 hours, in which every hour, say people gathered there, has the power to transform India.

A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
A crusade against corruption on the large, historic ground Ramlila Ground in the heart of Delhi. On a stage, a 74-year-old social activist reclines, grey in the face, much more frail today than he was yesterday or the day before. It's been eight days since Anna Hazare began his hunger- strike against graft, his fifth at this ground. So what happens here? What makes thousands of ordinary people brave rain and muggy days in August to stand steadfast? Here's the story captured from Ramlila Maidan – 24 hours, in which every hour, say people gathered there, has the power to transform India.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
At Ramlila Maidan, almost everyone has a story to tell. From the farmer who paid a bribe to get a sanction for his tractor loan to the student from far-flung areas of the country who wants to show Anna he stands by him – there's a story waiting to be heard. Those who gather at the Ramlila Maidan believe their time to be heard, has come.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
People power at this historic ground comes from neighbouring states like Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, adding to the droves from Delhi.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
The Tricolour rules at the ground. People wave it; wear it (as headbands and wristbands or painted on cheeks). The going price for wearing patriotism on the cheek – about Rs10.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Almost everyone has it as they make their way to the ground early in the morning. The historic ground makes no distinction as farmer and student, businessmen and housewives, families and individuals, stand shoulder-to-shoulder. They come to keep the vigil alive, to ensure support for Anna Hazare doesn't dwindle out in this bustling city.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
As the crowd swells, there's a fight for space and the need to tell their story, to omnipresent cameras waiting to capture the best “byte”. The protesters don't mind. They are willing to talk. After all it was the desire to talk, the wish to be heard and counted as voices that drew them here. This is how their message goes out.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
As the day progresses, the sea of Anna supporters sometimes contains entire families, including children and youngsters, friends and neighbours, united by a common cause. Usually, to serve the country and fight corruption or simply, stand by Anna, as he takes on the anti-graft fight. Many youngsters feel a personal connect with a 74-year-old man, fighting to give them, as they believe, a better tomorrow.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
The focus is on the stage where Anna Hazare rests. As the day progresses, the concern grows for Anna bearing the brunt of yet another sweltering day, with lashings of heavy rain, without food. When he does speak, many listen, as though hanging on to every word.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Anna Hazare's call of Bharat Mata Ki Jai is greeted each time with a roar. Other members of Anna's inner circle, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, get rapt attention from the crowd, waiting to hear the latest on Anna's health.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
On the sidelines of the fight against graft, food and water are available for the asking. Food is usually free and made by volunteers. Water is distributed in pouches and bananas are bought and distributed by the quintals to those taking a break, which the man on the stage never does.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Ramlila Maidan is also a sea for Anna paraphernalia. Anna topis to tees, every passionate protester has a message – I am Anna. They are indeed as they believe, Anna. As Anna Hazare has said several times when he addresses them, they are his strength.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
With the Tricolour unfurled in abundance and the mass of Anna gear on display, sloganeering and passionate speeches keep the crowd on their feet as the day wears on.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Special days have a special impact on the crowd. No breaks here, not even a tempting three-day weekend can preempt the swell at the ground. In fact, it brings more people. Many more people. The only give-away that it is a festive day - children dressed as Krishna in the otherwise somber mood as an unrelenting 74-year-old fasts.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Often, the day at the ground sees a steady stream of religious leaders – Swami Agnivesh, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. As they share the stage with Anna Hazare, sadhus in the crowd cheer.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Volunteers hand out pamphlets in Hindi and English on the Jan Lokpal Bill, which Team Anna insists can deal with corruption much more effectively than can the Lokpal Bill tabled by the Government in Parliament.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
The concern for Anna is all pervasive. Online there's a queue of tweets for prayers on Anna's health and well being. Offline, at the ground, the crowds are remarkably restrained. Anna comes on stage to a huge roar and says he is fine, despite the 5.5 kilos drained over the last eight days.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Not just at the ground, but just outside is a decent-size crowd. The crowd never dwindles – as some leave, others come. The Delhi Metro is their preferred choice of vehicle to reach Anna, to make their voice heard and to do, as they believe, something tangible for the country.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Passion and zeal alone cannot maintain a packed ground and those willing can donate money for protest-related crowd upkeep. For those with patience to stand in queue, organisers accept donations and issue receipts. Others can drop money in donation boxes but have to forego the receipts.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Posters and placards are an inherent part of any campaign. The Ramlila Maidan sees scores of cloth and paper banners and posters - sometimes with a touch of humour, cynicism or just the plain truth.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
There's music for the soul too, synchronized, spontaneous , loud , adding strength and colour to the campaign.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
As the day winds down, the crowd looks to the dias and the man holding centrestage, waiting for his next move.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Backroom talks, on-camera bytes, assurances, passionate speeches, slogans, a day at the ground sees all this and more. It sees a frail 74-year-old refusing to relent.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Singers, prominent personalities share the stage to uplift the spirit. The crowd makes its own music and song to boost flagging spirit and nourish tired bodies.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
Most of the day, Anna Hazare lies on the stage on a mattress, propped by several bolsters. At times he shifts indoors or addresses the crowd before calling it a day.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)
A day at Ramlila Maidan - photo essay
At the Ramlila Ground, the night will give way to another day. Another day with hours that count down to history as it unfolds.
(Photo courtesy: Niharika Jha and Swati Negi)

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