Humans of Bharat

| Updated on: Jun 30, 2017








Protests in 12 cities across the country against recent mob lynchings — #NotInMyName

The monsoon had arrived, and it was uncertain when the raindrops would start falling. Though it wasn’t raining just yet at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar at 5pm, it was muggy and gloomy. The weather mirrored the mood of the thousands of people who had gathered to protest #NotInMyName. What began as a Facebook post by Saba Dewan, a Delhi-based filmmaker and professor at Jamia Millia Islamia, rapidly grew into protests across 15 cities of India as well as London, Boston and Toronto on June 28. People shocked by the murder of Junaid Khan, a 16-year-old who was stabbed to death on-board a Mathura-bound train, had gathered to protest the spate of lynchings by vigilante groups across the country. Interestingly, no political parties showed up at the protests in Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai, thereby cementing its credentials as a spontaneous and citizen-led movement.

At Jantar Mantar we met Ritesh (name changed on request), a 31-year-old ad filmmaker who had just returned from a shoot in South Africa. “I think there is a lot of anger and resentment and that makes it easier for people to mobilise. You’ve seen the ‘Nirbhaya’ protests. The administration was clearly shocked at the intensity and scale,” he said.

Amina, who teaches in a school for the visually impaired, was also there with some of her students.

“They are here after a full day of classes. They are tired but happy to be a part of it,” she said. She showed us a poster made by one of her students. It read ‘BJP, heal thyself’ on one side and ‘Killing. Lynching. Mob Rage. NOT IN MY NAME’ on the other.

Lakshmi Karunakaran, a media consultant who runs a community library in Bengaluru, and was part of the protests at the city’s Town Hall, felt the best part was that hundreds of people had turned up at short notice. “I expected to see the protest regulars and those in touch with social medial platforms, but it was heart-warming to see people from all walks of life come together for this. Our sit-in protest was not jeopardised by a film-related event featuring a local superstar at the same venue. People were enthused to see Girish Karnad and Ramachandra Guha at the protest, even though the former isn’t keeping well.”

While posters, black armbands were provided at the Delhi venue, there were some — like Amina’s students — who came with their own posters. Some of the messages at Jantar Mantar read ‘Shed Hate, Not Blood’ and ‘ Nafrat ke khilaaf, hum sab ki awaaz (Our voices united against hate)’

‘Vaishnav jana toh’ a bhajan that is synonymous with Mahatma Gandhi, set the tone for the silent sit-in. The organisers announced this was a public mourning for the boy who died for being seen in a skullcap.

Perhaps, the most poignant part of the evening was when Mohammad Asaruddin, a resident of Khandawli, the deceased’s village, read out an imagined letter from the teenager to his bereaved mother, “Do not cry for me, mother, for I am in heaven. You wanted your sons to return to you with new clothes on Eid, yet only mourning came home to you. This Eid, you did not wear new clothes, or celebrate Eid. Do not mourn for me, for I am not dead.” Many remembered Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and other victims of gau rakshaks .

Mahendra Singh, a sevakdar at a gurudwara, was one of the protesters, as was DRDO scientist Samudra Das Gupta, who said, “I am not a political person, but I felt compelled to come out in the face of this violence.”

The Mumbai protesters gathered with umbrellas, raincoats and waterproof placards at the Carter Road promenade.

According to Ritika Bhatia, film consultant, “There was no marching or sloganeering, just a peaceful gathering of people from all over the city who wanted to show solidarity against the politics of hatred against Muslims, Dalits, women and all minorities, and condemn the silence of the State. People stood in the rain and got drenched for two hours, there was joy and there was anger — and the determination to stand against all violence.”

Revolutionary poetry gave words to what the protesters felt. Beyond sadness at the lynchings, there was condemnation of the complete silence from the authorities on the matter, and growing fears of a police state where dissenting voices are silenced. Urdu poetry at the Delhi protest articulated everyone’s thoughts:

Lo maine kalam ko dho daala/mere zubaan par taala hain

Khamosh hoon main/sannata hain

Har ek zubaan par taala hain/Darr fail gayi toh fail gayi

(I have washed the ink from my pen/my lips are sealed, I’m quiet, there’s absolute silence, Everyone is silent, the fear has spread)

But then again, there was Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s shayari to remember, “ Bol ki lab azaad hain tere, bol zubaan ab tak teri hain (Speak, for your lips are free to speak/ speak, for your voice is still yours).”

Published on January 12, 2018

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