City Moment – The Hanging of Joseph Lelyveld, Jantar Mantar
The beautiful Delhi instant.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Delhi Walla was one afternoon walking around Jantar Mantar, the area outside the 18th century solar observatory where Indians protest against injustice. Heading to Tolstoy Marg, I witnessed an incredible sight.
About 30 people were raising slogans. Cadres of a little known rightwing organization called Rashtrawadi Shiv Sena, they were demanding the death of the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author Joseph Lelyveld.
In March 2011, Mr Lelyveld’s book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle stirred a controversy for a passing mention on Gandhi’s relationship with a man friend. Reviews in newspapers claimed that the author has called Gandhi “a bisexual and a racist.” The day I was in Jantar Mantar, the page one of The Times of India carried the author’s interview with the headline: “If it’s wrong to discuss sex and Gandhi, I’m guilty.”
One protester was holding a poster of Mr Lelyveld’s portrait; there was a noose around the author’s neck. Others were displaying placards printed with these slogans:
Disgrace to father of our nation will not be accepted
Those who insult the National Father, the National Anthem, the National Symbol and the National Flag should be executed
The contemptible book should be banned
Long live national father Mahatma Gandhi
Joseph should be sentenced to death
Indians from the country’s most wretched and remote parts come to Jantar Mantar to raise their voices. This democratic venue was hosting a group that was intolerant of other people’s voices.
I approached a woman in the crowd. “Your name?” I asked her.
“Annapurna Sharma,” she said.
“Are you from Delhi?”
“No, I have come from Ajmer (in Rajasthan).”
Pointing to Mr Lelyveld’s portrait, I asked, “So you want this man to die?”
“I have to follow my leader.”
“Will you be happy if this man is hanged?”
“I don’t understand politics, but to tell you the truth, no, I don’t want him to die.”
It was a beautiful moment.
Joseph Lelyveld on the line?
Annapurna Sharma doesn’t want Mr Lelyveld to be hanged
What fun (thank God!)
Defy the intolerance, buy the book (at a Khan Market bookstore)