Mumbai Feels Different. Looks Like the Young Will Lead the Old from August Kranti Maidan This Time

Social Commentary

Mumbai Feels Different. Looks Like the Young Will Lead the Old from August Kranti Maidan This Time

Illustration: Hitesh Sonar

Salt-n-pepper was few and far between at the August Kranti Maidan on Thursday evening. Ripped jeans with white kurtas, topped with tresses streaked with green and purple were the norm.

Mumbai, usually shaken and stirred only by rain or riot, was roused from its torpor by the distant drumbeat of a political movement in the middle of a weekday. Normally, Mumbai doesn’t care to forgo its commerce for catchy slogans when the rest of the country is up in arms, but on Thursday it did. Thousands and thousands of protesters showed up to remind the government that the divisive Citizenship Amendment Bill might have been cleared in the Parliament but it’s definitely not getting a green signal from its people. In this fight between majority and humanity, the latter was not going to go down without a fight.

The vast sea of college students that descended on Grant Road station in the middle of the afternoon has rarely mobilised itself for a political wave of this nature. Blame it on ban on campus elections for the last two decades, but student activism, so strongly evident in the national capital and other campuses in the country, is usually conspicuous by its absence in the country’s financial capital. For the past few days however, Mumbai campuses are bristling. On Monday, the Kalina campus witnessed hundreds of youth rallying to the call of the Jamia Millia Islamia students, who were beaten with batons and hit by teargas shells by the Delhi police for organising a protest against CAA. At August Kranti Maidan on Thursday, they made their point even more strongly, with creative and clever placards that brought a touch of humour to a grim situation. “Lost my documents like Modi’s degree,” read one. “Don’t love us only for our biryani,” read another poster held by a similing Muslim man.

It was an evening of the young ‘uns.

“Switch on Google Maps, we need to find the venue,” they nudged each other on the local train. Most would be barely conversant with the historical importance of the August Kranti Maidan, from where the call for the Quit India Movement first went out on August 8, 1942. They couldn’t have cared less that it was at this place, the erstwhile Gowalia Tank, where citizens converged to ask the British to quit governing us. But they obviously cared enough to cut lectures, skip exams, leave work, and travel from far-flung suburbs to trek to August Kranti Maidan to make a point.

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At August Kranti Maidan on Thursday, youth made their point even more strongly, with creative and clever placards that brought a touch of humour to a grim situation.

Aparna Joshi

The National Register of Citizens and the CAA were topmost on their minds, obviously. But it was clearly apparent that the huge turnout had less to do with the immediate trigger of the NRC and more to do with the deep discontent with the system. Dub Sharma’s four-year-old anthem “Azaadi” played out all the way from Nana Chowk to the Maidan, and Faiz’s “Bol ke lab azaad hain tere” made it to the posters. Mumbai looked amazed with itself, at the number of people who kept pouring out of trains and over the flyovers, dwarfing the maidan, as afternoon turned to twilight.

It was clearly apparent that the huge turnout had less to do with the immediate trigger of the NRC and more to do with the deep discontent with the system.

Mumbai, which has a habit of shrugging its shoulders after every calamity, manmade or natural, be it the collapse of a footover bridge or the monsoon floods, and getting back to the business at hand, paused today. The young paused, the old paused, the poor paused, and the rich paused. The police posse, looking distinctly uncomfortable with their batons and shields, paused too, wondering at what had come over usually frantic Mumbai.

What we witnessed on Thursday was out of character for the city.

Yes, we’ve known of morchas and processions and rallies of all sizes – right from workers’ protests of the 1980s to the Kisan Long March of 2018. Mumbai usually shows its human side by offering food and water to protesters. But mostly we watch from the sidelines when trade unions, human rights groups, and political parties rustle up support to block trains, highways, and buses. Candlelight vigils for 26/11 martyrs and after serial bomb blasts were smaller affairs; the city paid its respects and quickly reverted to the business of living the next day.

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Everyone who was there, was there to be a part of the movement, not to hear platitudes.

Pratik Chorge/ Hindustan Times / Getty Images

Sectoral protests have been the order of the day more or less. Dalit marches happen in city pockets like they did in January 2018, turning violent when emotions run high. Most of us read about it in the newspapers, follow police advisory to avoid affected roads, and carry on. Azad Maidan, the nucleus of dharnas in Mumbai, saw an outpouring of support when Anna Hazare gave his anti-corruption clarion call in 2011 and the protests spilled over onto the streets for some days.That was probably one of the largest protests Mumbai had seen. Yet Thursday’s protests were nothing like I have seen before.

The estimates vary. Some reports say around 1.5 lakh people were at August Kranti Maidan, bystanders say the figure was probably higher. But those who turned up to lend their support to the movement against a perceived unjust government were young folks concerned not just about the wellbeing of their city, but the health of the entire nation. Mumbai, which normally doesn’t care two hoots, put up an extremely well-behaved protest against what it thought was going wrong with the country.

The speeches rang out from the dais but there were no celebrity orators to mesmerise the crowds. Everyone who was there, was there to be a part of the movement, not to hear platitudes. The headscarf with the bindi and the defiant skull cap were all in attendance. The message was clear – the youth of the city are no longer the fun-seeking mercenaries they have been painted to be. This is a new breed that is as passionate about issues of identity and divisive politics as it is about posting selfies on social media.

Possibly this is just the beginning. Possibly, Mumbai has just woken up. And perhaps, it is the young who will lead the old from the August Kranti Maidan this time.

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