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A march of the young muted by death

Death can cure excitement.

A silent procession of mostly high school and college students who held lit candles in their hand started from Birla Planetarium, went around Rabindra Sadan and came back to sign a petition on Saturday evening to protest the death of the 23-year-old girl from Delhi.

It was a far cry from the march of the previous Saturday, December 22, when thousands of the city’s young had got off their Facebook accounts to clog Chowringhee from beginning to end during evening rush hour, shouting slogans and crying for justice.

Today there was no rage, no passionate demand for the noose for the offenders... but no numbers either.

Only about six hundred ventured around 4.30 into the cold winter evening from below Indira Gandhi’s statue near Birla Planetarium a few hours after the news of the death was announced. They were responding to Calcutta Boys School Class XII student Aman Golechha’s call on Facebook. With the students were also some parents and a few government representatives and professionals.

A protester at the walk. (Pradip Sanyal)

Aman had first made the post calling for a December 25 meeting. But the police denied his group permission. “The police were also not sure whether it should be a meeting or a walk,” said Srishti Mukherjee, a student of Class XII at Modern High School, adding that these changes in plans may have kept the number low.

Then there are the exams. “Most of us have exams in January,” she said.

But even as the grounds of Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, the epicentre of the protest, swelled with peaceful candlelight demonstrators, there was a feeling that Calcutta has spent its breath in the 10 days of the girls’ struggle. Her death was a finality that probably made many stay at home.

As the procession moved slowly past St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Academy of Fine Arts and curved around Rabindra Sadan, lighting up the dusk as well as the winter dust, a few questions hung in the air.

The marchers carried posters, some of them distributed by the organisers — one poster, with a silhouette of Batman, said: “You don’t need a cape and tights to make a difference” — and printouts that demanded justice.

“But if there were thousands marching last week, why is it that nothing has come out of it?” asked Jimmy Tangree, Red FM station head and RJ, who was part of the procession. A petition with thousands of signatures could have come out, he said. “The young people should seek proper legal help and reach their message to the authorities,” he said.

The idea, said another older marcher, was to take the protest forward. There were questions about whether a march by thousands, even if a spontaneous one, was a one-time show.

The same question, by implication, could be asked of today’s demonstration. So can words like “youth uprising” or “youth movement” be used at all? They would require a consistency of action, not to mention commitment.

But the organisers and the other marchers, however, were articulate in their demands. At the end of the walk, at the bottom of Indira Gandhi’s statue, they read out from a petition.

Identifying themselves as residents of Calcutta, they wanted justice in two cases: the Delhi incident, and the rape of a 30-year-old woman on September 10, 2012. They want harsh punishment and a change in law. Life imprisonment is not enough. The greater purpose of such an effort is the safety of women.

The petition, which was signed by about 550 people, will be sent to the Governor, the President and the Prime Minister.

The march was also attended by the state women’s commission chief, Sunanda Mukherjee, who said she came because a young student called her. “They are the future,” she said, walking at the end and pointing at the young marchers ahead.

Only time will tell if this is a beginning or not.