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THE CITIZEN COMMENT | 25 DECEMBER, 2019

The Aroma of Protest

The Aroma of Protests


It has never been seen before since Independence. Protests, yes. Anger and violence, yes. But this surge -- never in living memory. Any government would be shaken, shaken by awe and admiration for the youth of India who have come out on the streets in the millions, regardless of personal safety, confronting threats and abuse, tear gas and lathis, bullets and water canons, aware that many have perished in what have become killing fields in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and even Delhi, and yet using all this to fuel their aspirations for a democratic, secular, pluralist India.

The national anthem is reverberating through India, being sung with new passion and renewed faith; the Constitution is being read over and over again by the youth at protests reclaiming the India outlined by the founding fathers; the national flag is being held aloft with new pride; songs that were used to fight the British are echoing through traumatised mohallas and gullies; even as Gandhi, Ambedkar and others come alive with the new generations of India embracing their example as protests take the form of civil disobedience and satyagraha.

The ingenuity and creativity of youth is on full display - the memes, the posters, the humour, the black humour, the music, the solidarity the unity. It is just so amazing and so exhilirating as it swamps the nasty hate language of those who are working still to turn India into something even they do not seem to be very sure about. Hindu rashtra yes, but what does it mean when the majority of Hindus seem to be rejecting it? All political parties ---even BJP allies like the Janata Dal-U, Akali Dal and supporters like Biju Janata Dal-- are looking the other way. And Shiv Sena has declared that it was a mistake to mix religion with politics. And state after state is coming out with the declaration that it will not implement the Citizen Amendment Act and all related measures. The political parties are being led by the youth, following their footsteps and using the exemplary courage on display to strengthen their own bent spines.

20 have died in Uttar Pradesh alone in brutal police action. These are the figures one has to accept in the face of complete police denial, as the lists being compiled by the opposition and the activists complete this figure. Homes have been ransacked by the police, property seized as UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath seeks his promised revenge. And even now has been, in speeches, spewing venom and hate against the citizens of India. Of course for him the targets remain the Muslims who during the Muzaffarnagar violence were told to get out, with a whisper campaign that then their houses could be occupied by the majority very much like the days of Partition. The same is being repeated today, with those who smashed property telling the terrified residents to leave, as the house “is ours.”

But then what the youth of India have been highlighting, is that all the deaths have been reported from BJP ruled states - UP, Assam and Karnataka. And Delhi in that the police is under the Union Home Ministry. Bigger protests, massive demonstrations have been held all over the country with lakhs marching without a stone being thrown, without a single arrest, or attack. Why? This is the question being asked in speeches, on the social media and even by columnists across.

The fact remains that the BJP and its leadership of two - Prime Minister Narendra Moi and Home Minister Amit Shah--have come up with no explanations or modified plan of action. PM Modi completely contradicted Shah’s utterances in a speech that barely resonated; and Shah backed by Adityanath continues to insist that the government will go ahead, and not back off. This all comes packed in the usual diatribe of hate and divisiveness, laced with attacks on Urban Naxals, and of course Jinnah supporters. Pro-CAA rallies are being organised, and the social media being revved up for individual attacks on those opposing the Act.

A government that does not recognise the signs often ends up digging its own grave. This is as true of India as of the world. When bridal couples take a vow at the ceremony on the Constitution of India; when the bridegrooms leads his bride and guests to shout azadi slogans against inequality and hate; when young women take the lead over and over again despite the horror stories emanating from Delhi itself, to confront the cops ----this is a shift and a change that rulers can ignore at their own peril. The brutal crackdown on the people in select campuses and cities should have by now forced the protestors indoors, instead more and more are coming out, masses really that do not even need the media any longer. Quite the reverse really, as in several demonstrations the bought and sold media crews are being told politely to pack up and leave. “We do not want you here,” they are told.

This protests have been interspersed with days and nights of sheer terror. Of students being mercilessly beaten, of young and old being arrested in the thousands, of houses being looted, of minors being abused in police stations --- the images and videos have been shared far and wide. But instead of breaking the back of the protests, this seems to have strengthened the resolve to, as they say over and over again, “reclaim our India, our democracy, our unity, our secularism.”

Muslims are part of the protests. It took a Kashmiri to point out that this has been the first time since independence that Indian Muslims have come out on the streets in these numbers. And in an assertion of unity. We are one, this is our land, we are citizens of India is the gist of these huge protests all across the country including BJP ruled states, with the Muslims marching quietly, peacefully, with the national flag and the national anthem on their lips. This is the first political assertion of India’s largest minority community that is making it clear along with all the other teeming masses, that it will not accept CAA, and certainly not allow anyone to take away their citizenship. As a senior editor in Bengaluru said, what we are seeing is just a fraction of those who can be expected to be on the streets on the coming days and weeks.

The minority, traumatised and terrorised, is at the same time breathing a sigh of relief that the young of India have come out with them. And that, as they had feared at one point, they are not alone despite being pushed deeper and deeper into the corner over the past years. Perhaps the most ingenuous counter to PM Modi’s , you can recognise those indulging in violence with their clothes, has come over the social media and messages ridiculing the concept with videos where a man with a skull cap identifies himself with a Hindu name, a girl with a bindi carries a Muslim name ….all challenging the viewers to guess their ‘identity’.

The word out is : peace. Remain peaceful, as there is nothing to be violent about. Jamia students have shown the way, with peaceful congregations at their gates. Songs, slogans, love with young girls even offering flowers to surprised cops, even as during the nights lawyers, activists rush to police stations to provide help to those brought in after a crackdown on civilians. The Citizen has been carrying posters and videos to capture the nature of the protests, the courageous resilience of the youth, and the humour that stops trolls in their tracks. As the 83 year old grandson of Gandhi, Rajmohan Gandhi said in Mysuru, this is Gandhi’s way. He is back!

Even as one is writing this we have received a video where a young girl, wearing a hijab but not necessarily a Muslim, says she has asked her children to go to protest sites with cannisters to collect the water from water canons as she has no water at home! This, folks, is resistance.

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