India Against CAA: Being a First-Time Protester Can Be Daunting, Don’t Hesitate to Ask Questions

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India Against CAA: Being a First-Time Protester Can Be Daunting, Don’t Hesitate to Ask Questions

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

On Monday, after years of expressing my political opinions online, I attended my first-ever protest. I joined hundreds of my fellow citizens at Mumbai University at Kalina to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act and NRC, spurred into taking this step after being shocked into action by the visuals emanating from Delhi, of police forces using disproportionate violence to silence students protesters.

It’s very hard to think of any positives in the current dark-cloud-filled scenario, but if you dig hard enough, you’ll find one small silver lining: People are becoming more aware. Not just the usual liberals who share Humans of Hindutva posts, but those who have tried their level best to stay away from politics over the last few years. The fact that people who don’t regularly read op-eds can be shocked and outraged enough by recent happenings is telling.

But making your way to your first protest can be a daunting proposition. I never ended up going for several stirs I could have been a part of, because of the unanswered questions I had about how proceedings would unfold. Was I expected to carry a sign? If a scuffle breaks out, can I leave or will that be deemed cowardly? Will I need to speak to the media? To some, especially seasoned protesters, some of these questions might seem silly, but a little bit of information would help people who genuinely want to join the good fight.

My humble request to people who have attended protests or shown dissent in any form is to share experiences, not be condescending to newbies, answer questions (no matter how seemingly frivolous), and encourage people outside the usual activist circle to speak up, in any form. Currently, we’re in a crisis. This is not the time for alienating people. It’s not the time to sneer, “Mumbai goes to U2 instead of protesting.” Nor is it the time for out-woking or virtue-signalling. Any effort, upwards of silence will help and must be encouraged. Even if people want to just put up one tweet saying this is wrong, let them; heck, that might even be more impactful. So if someone seems to be coming to protests for Instagram cred – good, let them. At least they showed up. At least some more people will learn about the protest.

CAA

I never ended up going for several stirs I could have been a part of, because of the unanswered questions I had about how proceedings would unfold. Was I expected to carry a sign?

Deepak Gopalakrishnan

One of my favourite Twitter handles is @trump_regrets, a crowdsourced set of tweets from people who, well, regretted voting for the jerk in the White House back in 2016. I’ve followed the handle since 2017, and it’s astonishing to see the change in responses move from vitriol (“How could you vote for him, you’re as bad”) to supportive (“Thank you for your honesty”, “Here’s how you can help”, “Call your representative”, etc). We need more of the latter. I’m not saying we do the former, but we need to be mindful of the risk of slipping down that slope.

For example, my contribution to Monday’s protest was as minimal as it could get. I was there for the 1.5-hour duration, and mostly observed from the sidelines.

It was raucous and passionate without ever devolving into ugliness. It was well-controlled, and the police, to their credit, were supportive. The atmosphere was one of unity and — dare I say — hope. There were several journalists around speaking to people as well and the same words and phrases kept flying around: “Students”, “Protesting for change”, “Speak up”, “Solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters”, “Country is at stake”, “Proud of the youth”. I saw what seemed to be many fellow first-timers who seemed as clueless as I did, but they joined in — slowly at first, then bobbing their heads to chants as if at a concert, then clapping, some of them going all the way, screaming. Some people, on the sidelines, were documenting it all. There were some fabulous signs.

My humble request to people who have attended protests or shown dissent in any form is to share experiences and not be condescending to newbies.

There were two definitive moments for me. First, someone from the spineless, invisible Congress tried to push his own agenda and was impatiently ushered off stage being warned not to try and gain political mileage out of this. The second moment was at the very end, where everyone stood together and recited the Constitution, followed by the national anthem. It was the first time in my life I sang along for a reason that was not compulsion or self-preservation.

That experience left a deep impact on me, and I’m sure several others felt the same way. I posted one pic, and got two people asking me those same seemingly silly questions I had before Monday. As a result, two more will show up at the next protest. Another friend told me later how she too felt awkward for what seemed to be a basic question at a later gathering, but found an answer from a supportive audience.

No question is too silly to be asked or answered. Like safety — a top concern for so many, especially women. There is no shame in self-preservation. No background should be discounted. If someone with privilege asks whether he should bring sunscreen, he is still interested in coming, and isn’t that the important thing? Making a joke will scare him (and others like him) off. For a group of people who are supposed to be all-inclusive, we liberals can be twats at times.

For those organising protests, my request is to plan for the many people who are interested in attending, who have not done so before. Account for those, put out resources (just a simple set of bullet points) for them. What is the minimum they can do? If they can’t or don’t want to come, is there another way to show support? I’ve seen stuff like this get shared rapidly; people really want to know. Lower those entry barriers.

We clearly know who’s on which side of the fence. Most people are still ON it. With reason, logic, and solidarity, we could get some of them on our side. And while we’re still a democracy, that might matter.

Peace, and see you soon at a protest.

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