Photographing a JNU protest march, Delhi, India

Photographing a JNU protest march, Delhi, India by Harvinder Sunila (website | tumblr | instagram):

My name is Harv, I'm a photographer in the UK, some of you may have seen my guest post on NikonRumors last year about the school under the bridge in Delhi.

Earlier this year I had the chance to go to India again, these opportunities don't come around too often so I went. On a side note, if you do get the chance to travel and see new places, whether close or far, then just go. Do things while you can, convincing yourself that you can go another time usually means you never actually go.

While waiting for the march to start I saw this policewoman, she was sitting next to a stack of banners placed there by protesters. What struck me was how young she looked, how beautiful she looked and how scared she looked.

While waiting for the march to start I saw this policewoman, she was sitting next to a stack of banners placed there by protesters. What struck me was how young she looked, how beautiful she looked and how scared she looked.

While I was in Delhi in February a news story broke which completely dominated and divided India. There were protests across the country and students and journalists were being attacked and arrested. As an outsider the media and political manipulation of events was very disturbing and obvious, but to much of the Indian public I don't think it was.

As more and more police arrived I noticed many of them were riot police, a few of them got angry when they saw I was taking images of the tear gas they were carrying.

As more and more police arrived I noticed many of them were riot police, a few of them got angry when they saw I was taking images of the tear gas they were carrying.

I'm going to give a simplistic and brief outline of the story as a backdrop to the images I shot. It's a very complex subject and involves many issues affecting India, so if you're interested in the details I suggest you Google it, it's just too much to go into on a NikonRumors article.

Some protesters started shouting and waving signs before the main march. They were becoming impatient because it had been delayed a few hours, and it was extremely hot in Delhi at that time of day.

Some protesters started shouting and waving signs before the main march. They were becoming impatient because it had been delayed a few hours, and it was extremely hot in Delhi at that time of day.

The story revolves around the JNU, Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, a university with a strong history of standing up for freedom of speech. During a student union event it was alleged that some students were supporting and encouraging acts of violence against the Indian state. This led to a media and political storm, Members of the right wing BJP party, who govern India, wanted universities closed down and were seen by many to be preventing free speech. Parts of the media were inventing stories to follow a particular agenda, while the university itself was in lock down with police being prevented from entering. After the arrest of the JNU student union president, students and lecturers from universities across India joined for a protest march to Parliament in central Delhi, these are some of my images and thoughts from that day.

The centre of Delhi came to a standstill as a mass of people took over the roads.

The centre of Delhi came to a standstill as a mass of people took over the roads.

The march was supposed to start at 12pm, but after getting to the location and talking to reporters I found out it was delayed until 3pm. As I waited, bus loads of protesters were arriving along with bus loads of police. Roads were being closed off and there was an uneasy feeling as protesters sat next to police officers outside in the Delhi heat.

Walking backwards, looking through a viewfinder, while a wave of angry protesters are marching towards you can be a little precarious.

Walking backwards, looking through a viewfinder, while a wave of angry protesters are marching towards you can be a little precarious.

I had no idea how many people would turn up, I later found out the numbers were somewhere between 2000 and 5000. There was never a feeling that anything violent would happen, the protesters were very passionate and vocal but not particularly threatening. I did get some finger pointing and odd looks from the police when I managed to get behind the riot police lines, but I carried on taking images until I was moved or arrested, neither of which happened.

I was impressed by the passion shown, and in the back of my mind I kept thinking these are the very same streets where Mahatma Gandhi marched against British rule.

I was impressed by the passion shown, and in the back of my mind I kept thinking these are the very same streets where Mahatma Gandhi marched against British rule.

As far as equipment was concerned, I used my D3 with three Nikon primes, a 24mm f/2.8 AFD, 50mm f/1.8G AFS and 85mm f/1.8G AFS. Which gear you use is a very personal thing, I've always preferred primes over zooms. I noticed most of the other press photographers there were all using Nikon, I saw a lot of D750 bodies. Nikon seem to have a better reputation in India compared to Canon, I'm not sure if that's down to better marketing or what. All my gear worked perfectly as usual and a big thanks to the friendly staff at Nikon India for cleaning my sensor, Delhi is crazy dusty. Every photographer works in their own way, personally I work out my manual exposures for a particular iso/aperture I want to use and adjust shutter speeds according to the light I find myself in. The march lasted several hours and was going from bright sunlight to shade from buildings and trees. The raw files were adjusted in Lightroom, Photoshop and Color Efex. In my photojournalism I stick to stringent rules, the only things adjusted are what I could adjust in my film years, colour, contrast, brightness, dodging and burning, dust removal and sometimes straightening (which causes a slight crop).

Some of the police officers weren't too pleased to see a photographer behind their barricades.

Some of the police officers weren't too pleased to see a photographer behind their barricades.

One thing that really angered me while on this protest was seeing a fellow photographer direct protesters to pose in a certain way, that's not right or ethical and to me is unacceptable. A big part of this JNU story was the manipulation of facts, and to see a photographer do that left a bad taste in my mouth. A subject that's been back in the news recently with Steve McCurry.

The protesters came from all ages and backgrounds, many of them showing their disdain towards the media around them, including me.

The protesters came from all ages and backgrounds, many of them showing their disdain towards the media around them, including me.

Although this story, which is ongoing, didn't make much of an impact outside India it was an important event to cover and document. It was interesting photographically and interesting as a life experience. Hopefully this article, my pictures and the captions give you a small insight into how that day was for me. If you have any questions please ask.

Riot police had blocked off the road near the Indian Parliament buildings and wouldn't allow the march to get any closer.

Riot police had blocked off the road near the Indian Parliament buildings and wouldn't allow the march to get any closer.

All photographs © Harvinder Sunila 2016 all rights reserved, no reproduction without permission.

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