#NotInMyName and the Absence of the Armchair Activist

Politics

#NotInMyName and the Absence of the Armchair Activist

Illustration: Akshita Monga

I

t’s about 7 pm, and I am swimming through a sea of people at Jantar Mantar. There is a wonderful whiff of petrichor in the air after the season’s first downpour, rivalled only by the energy of the crowd that has come together to protest the spate of lynchings in the country.

Twenty-five-year-old homemaker Ambar Ahmed has come all the way from Gurgaon: Her two-year-old son Quasim is on her left hip, six-year-old Haider’s hand in her right. She’s one of nearly a thousand Dilliwalas who’ve decided that the killings are #NotInMyName. “It becomes obvious from my features and my clothes that I’m Muslim,” she tells me. “I’m scared to go out in public spaces now more than ever, especially when I’m with the two of them.”

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As I speak to Ahmed, the gathering around me gains steam. A performer is up on stage to sing the legendary nazm and revolutionary crowd favourite, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s “Hum Dekhenge”.

“Sab taaj uchhaale jaayenge
Sab takht giraaye jaayenge…
Hum dekhenge”

If this is not a show of strength by Dilliwalas, cutting across class and religious lines, I don’t know what is. Singing along is Rohit Kumar, a teacher with a homemade placard hanging from his neck, which reads “Shed hate, not blood”. Next to him is 64-year-old retired scientist Ahmed Naqvi who says he has never seen the country in such a state. There is homemaker Anjali Jain, who read about the event on Facebook and feels disheartened by recent lynchings. There is 57-year-old businessman Ashwini Handa who thinks the current government is a pseudo dictatorship which is worse than Indira’s emergency.

NotInMyName Protest Across India Against Mob Violence

Haters gonna hate, but the crowds at Jantar Mantar didn’t have a fuck to give.

Hindustan Times / Getty Images

And then there is Aamir Abidi, who has turned up with his 11-year-old son. “Mere pitaji ne aur mere purkhon ne apne khoon se seencha hain iss mulk ki zameen ko,” he tells me. “Main chahta hoon mera beta bhi aazaad aur khushguwar Hindustan mein jiye (My ancestors have toiled to ensure India is a free and successful nation… I want my kids to live in the same free and beautiful country).”

Those who expected a full turnout from the media, were not off the mark. There are several editors and reporters, thrusting their phones and mics in people’s faces, but a Zee News reporter catches the eye of the protesters. “Shame shame,” yell a pair of oldies with Marlboros in their hands and vengeance on their minds. “Shame shame Zee News, shame shame Times Now and shame shame Republic,” they chant.

This diverse and outspoken set of people were rallied together by a Facebook event created by filmmaker Saba Dewan, in response to the murder of 16-year-old Hafiz Junaid. India’s right-wing media houses led the backlash to this silent protest on Twitter and TV, labelling it a gathering of the elite. Even the mostly liberal News Minute opened the floodgates bashing it with an op-ed. Times Now “investigated” and later found the movement’s “foreign hand”. Even the otherwise liberal Shivam Vij of Huffington Post initially called it a flop show.

That’s not a memo the folks at Jantar Mantar received. Nobody told Punjabi folk singer Rabbi Shergill that this was a flop show, who took the stage under the light drizzle for a rendition of his iconic, “Bulla ki jaana main kaun”. He was followed by Maya Krishna Rao who performed a spoken-word poetry set, condemning the killers of Kashmiri cop Ayub Pandith.

Establishing support for minorities is key in showing that they aren’t to be bullied by the would-be makers of Hindu Rashtra like the VHP.

I asked over 20 people what they thought the protest could accomplish, and their answers ranged from “solidarity” to “government will take notice” to the fact that “it’s just heartening to see people still care”.

In this era of whataboutery, another specious argument trotted out against the protest, was that it was an outpouring against lynchings of only Muslims – and not Dalits and farmers who commit suicide everywhere. (I’m surprised no one yelled, “Soldiers are dying at the border!”) These detractors have clearly not read the IndiaSpend report that states that 97 per cent of deaths in bovine-related incidents since 2010 have come under the Modi regime. He only came to power in 2014, and Muslims comprised 86 per cent of all deaths. The report adds, “In 23 attacks, the attackers were mobs or groups of people who belonged to Hindu groups, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and local Gau Rakshak Samitis.”

Establishing support for minorities is key in showing that they aren’t to be bullied by the would-be makers of Hindu Rashtra like the VHP. The last outfit’s local leader, Acharya Giriraj Kishore once reportedly led a mob which killed five Dalits in 2002 over cow slaughter. He later stated that he had no regrets over the incident and that the life of a cow was worth more than the lives of five Dalits.

Haters gonna hate, but the crowds at Jantar Mantar didn’t have a fuck to give. Many, like theatre director Neil Sen Gupta, told me they were compelled because they’d reached a place of, “Ab toh ho gaya bas.”

NotInMyName Protest Across India Against Mob Violence

If this is not a show of strength by Dilliwalas, cutting across class and religious lines, I don’t know what is.

Hindustan Times / Getty Images

Yesterday’s Jantar Mantar – and Mumbai’s Carter Road, Bangalore’s Town Hall, Kochi’s High Court Junction, Patna’s Kargil Chowk, Allahabad’s Civil Lines – was not merely a show of solidarity. It was a vital sign of a living, breathing democracy, telling its government and elected leaders that it expected better of them. That the people who had elected it to power were going to be counted.

It all ended with a small, but sweet, victory: At least it drew a response out of our Prime Minister, who, for the first time in three years, voiced concern over gau rakshaks. It’s a minuscule victory – compared to what the 2012 protests against the Delhi gangrape were able to achieve – but in these hopeless times, it was a small flicker of hope.

I was reminded of how it all began, when Junaid’s cousin inaugurated the proceedings by reading a page out of Junaid’s “Diary to his mother from Jannat”. He’d lost his brother six days ago, but tonight he’d sleep better than the night before. The protest would not resurrect the dead, but it had ensured Junaid’s family, and those of other lynching victims, knew one tiny fact.

India is listening. India is angry.

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