THE SESSIONS-COURT COMPLEX in Jodhpur was particularly crowded on the afternoon of 9 February. By 2 pm, around 200 people had gathered outside the building. They were of various ages and from a variety of backgrounds, though there were unusually many young women among them—some dressed in jeans and sweatshirts, others in crisp salwar kameez and light woollen cardigans. Many in the crowd had travelled from outside the city, and carried small rucksacks or cloth bags. One family told me that they had come from Gorakhpur, in Uttar Pradesh, a little more than 1,000 kilometres away; one man that he had come from Jalpaiguri, in West Bengal, nearly 2,000 kilometres away.
Just after 2 pm, police began to cordon off the entrance to the building, forming a semicircle and forcing the crowd away. More people kept joining the crowd, and as the throng swelled they kept their eyes fixed on the gate to the complex.
Before long, a large blue van with the words “Riot Control” emblazoned on its side pulled in. A flurry of activity broke out around it. Several people ran behind the van as it passed them, yelling, “Bapu! Bapu!” (Father! Father!) Police officers chased them away, swinging their wooden sticks and blowing their whistles. One young woman in a parrot-green salwar kameez ran alongside the van, clutching her handbag and smartphone. As the vehicle turned right into a lane before the court building, she stepped into its path, joined her palms and cried, “Bapu! Bapu!”