Capital Manners – Shoe Throwing Gets an OK

Shoe Throwing in Delhi

Delhi is becoming less courteous.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

No longer can Delhi’s cobblers ply their trade with a clean conscience. With Lajpat Nagar-based journalist Jarnail Singh doing an al-Zaidi on India’s home minister during a press conference in the city on April 7th, 2009, not just the soul of Mr Singh’s profession but the way we Delhiwallas protest has acquired a new sole.

Quite a few Delhiites I talked to have raised sole-stirring questions. “Why throw a joota?” asks Mr Sumantha Roy, a 26-year-old IT professional in Noida. “In these times of pink slips, throwing pink panties would have been a bigger and classier insult.”

In the recent past, Delhiites haven’t thrown just shoes, but also saliva on public figures they don’t like. On November 6th, 2008, all hell broke loose in Delhi University when a young man spat on the face of Professor SAR Geelani, a lecturer at Zakir Hussain College. Mr Geelani was attending a seminar while the spitter was part of the troupe led by Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) president Nupur Sharma, who was protesting against Mr Geelani’s presence. (Mr Geelani was an accused in the terrorist attack on Parliament, since acquitted.)

On February 13th, 2009, when author Arundhati Roy visited the Delhi University campus, she was greeted with a slipper thrown by student group Youth Unity for Vibrant Action (YUVA). The slipper was auctioned for Rs 101, 000 at Jantar Mantar five days later.

What is this city coming to?

CR Park-based author Samit Basu sees no problem with this jootebaaji. “I’m okay with any sort of protest as long as it’s short of actual violence,” he says. “Besides, shoe-throwing makes for good television.”

But shoe-throwing doesn’t merely mean being discourteous. You might not get the shoe back. Model Manasvi Mamgai, who has around 60 pair in her Saket apartment, would never part with her footwear even if she faced the most hateful public person on earth. “It’s not about disrespect,” she says. “It’s just that I like my shoes.”

This materialistic stand is shared by Amar Colony resident Sonam Tsomo, who lords over at least 50 pairs of sandals. “I’ll never throw shoes at anyone… I love my shoes,” says Ms Tsomo. “I’d rather hurl stones, though I don’t have very good aim.”

“These new forms of protests are an expression of anger without language,” says Mr Dipankar Gupta, sociology professor in Jawaharlal Nehru University. “These are acts of frustration and many people feel resentment due to various reasons.”

Even if we put aside the morality of shoe–throwing, can tossing accessories at public figures change the world into a planet of your dreams?

“Throwing a shoe is much more effective than lighting candles at India Gate, couriering tons of pink chaddis, or sloganeering at the Boat Club,” says Ms Anuja Chauhan, author of The Zoya Factor. “But I wish people would practise first, so that the shoe actually makes contact with its target.”

Not when the target is Arundhati Roy, for sure.