The Indian Government’s stealthy amendment of The Citizenship Act and the injudicious implementation of National Register of Citizenship in Assam, and reports of its potential implementation in other parts of the country — woke the entire country from a long, lost slumber. The Indian masses expressed their resentment against the government and assembled on the streets in a number that was reminiscent of the Freedom Struggle for Independence. However, one remarkable thing about the protests was that it wasn’t lead by a political party or a religious sect — rather it was a consolidated student-led protest. Young India not only educated itself about the exclusionary law but also educated itself about why it was against the very essence of the constitution itself.
The government, however, was adamant about silencing this emerging young voice of dissent and took rash combative steps as ‘damage control’. Tear-gas, water-cannons, lathi-charge, Article 144, internet ban, censorship of news, paid promotion, political threats — the protestors withstood it all and did not allow it to dim their fire. The millennials figured out their jugaad (tricks) to voice their discontent even amidst this adversity.
The switch-over to offline messaging apps
As pan-India protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act broke out in India, the government resorted to suspending mobile networks and internet access in various parts of the country in an effort to put a band-aid on the situation. The Citizens of India, however, took a page out of the book of Hong-Kong’s anti-government protests in March 2019 and starting switching to offline messaging apps like Bridgefy to stay connected and spread reliable information about the time, date and venue of the protests. Bridgefy does not rely on internet connections and rather makes use of Bluetooth technology to transmit one-on-one messages up to a range of 100 meters. The broadcast feature of Bridgefy allowed the transmission of messages to multiple audiences who are in range, even those who are not in our contact list.
Other offline alternatives such as FireChat, Signal Offline, Vojer, Briar also gained currency during the internet shut down as more and more people switched to them in order to ‘educate, agitate and organize’.
‘This government does not spark joy’
The Millennials know how to dissent in vogue. Memes, catchy-slogans and puns, the protestors left no stone unturned in making the posters witty and humorous. Pop cultural references from Harry Potter to Mean Girls, past trendy meme-templates, this is the first time India saw the meme-fication of the government as a mode of resistance on the streets. In such grave times, young India used humor as a healthy coping mechanism.
A Culmination of Music, Art and Literature
A Popular Urdu nazm ‘Hum Dekhenge’ by Faiz Ahmed Faiz emerged as the most popular anthem for the protestors during this time of dissent. It was sung during times of distress when the protestors were bombarded with tear-gas, water-cannons and lathi-charge. Renowned poet and comedian Varun Grover lent his voice to the dissent by reciting his poem ‘Hum kaagaz nahi dikhayenge’ translating into ‘we will not show the NRC papers’. Unanimous slogans of azadi (freedom) and inquilab zindabad (long live the revolution) are audible on every venue of protest. The New Year was marked at Shaheen Bagh with a loud singing of the National Anthem, amplifying their determination to protect the Indian Constitution from the claws of political propaganda.
Women at the forefront
One keen observation made during the anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests was how women demonstrators lead the protests on the streets in a number never seen before. Not only women organizations, female students and female lawyers, the revolt against CAA-NRC saw the common woman fighting for her right to dissent. The streets of India have been replete with women from all walks of life: some breastfeeding mothers protesting in the stone-cold with their infants safely tucked in their bosom in warm blankets, female students valiantly protecting their Muslim male peers from being nitpicked and beaten, female lawyers, journalists and doctors doing their bit of service on the field.
Kill ’em with kindness
In Shaheen Bagh protestors were seen distributing water and snacks to other protestors. Many doctors treated the injured protestors pro-bono without asking for a dime. Many lawyers assembled outside the police stations where young protestors had been illegally detained and made sure the constitutional rights of the protestors were secure. Many journalists gave an objective in-situ reportage of the protests ‘live’ from the streets, while most of the television and print media was busy licking the boots of the politicians in power.
Many young students approached the police with a smile on their faces and asked them why they were attacking the innocent protestors — they expressed how they felt betrayed by the police force in times such as this when police was expected to be the upholders of law — not pawns of a political party to be unleashed on those who did not conform. In such volatile times, the students re-asserted at every step their right to have a peaceful protest. One image that went viral showed a protestor smilingly giving a rose to a police officer, portraying the spirit of satyagraha inherent in the revolution.
The spirit of democracy should encourage a voice of dissent rather than trying to silence them into being a homogenous herd of sheep without an opinion of their own. A student-led protest reminded us that the Government was meant to serve the people, the constitution was meant to safeguard us and humanity is more important than nationalism. True patriotism, as the demonstrators portrayed, did not mean being a yes-man to the government. True patriotism means preventing your country from falling into an Orwellian dystopia where ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’.