SOS DELHI.

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Hate was just a failure of imagination.

Graham Greene, ‘The Power and the Glory’

They say writing is one way of showing your dissent, your displeasure towards a particular situation, especially if you cannot be physically present. And, while most of my writing channels itself in angry rants directed at fence-sitters and silent spectators, the urge to write to express myself eats me up inside till I finally get down to it. Today is one of those days.

Clashes / Pogrom / Riots / Genocide. Over the last four days, as Delhi (particularly NE Delhi) went up in flames, there’s been a social media war over which word best suits the situation we are in. And while the war wages on, the increasing death toll in Delhi is worrisome.

As a citizen who head-dived into the anti-CAA protests, this violence is horrifying. In India, where the loss of lives is a mere statistic, that something like this would shock me, shocks me even more. We the people of India wake up to discrimination only as per our own convenience, bombard our social media accounts with #SOS calls, gruesome images of brutalities, plaster #Free whoever is the person of the moment on our Facebook walls before promptly going back to sleep or about our daily lives. I’m not judging or pointing fingers at anyone here, I belong to the same category of people and while I’m glad that we are finally ready to act, our collective silence on the crackdown in Kashmir and Assam is proof enough of where our priorities lie, i.e. with ourselves. So, what exactly is our issue? Why does it take so long for us to stand up for or against something? Why do we wait for the calamity to come knocking on our door before we’re consumed by panic or fear or just plain anger?

The image that will haunt us for the rest of our lives. February, 2020. Image: Reuters

India has a plethora of existing problems. You can begin with unemployment and income inequality and trace it back to the vicious caste and class systems that don’t provide the people of this country equal opportunities. Top it up with gender-based discrimination and the alienation of those who don’t identify with either gender. Add to all this a religious twist and you have, quite literally, a recipe for disaster. Murders aren’t just murders in our country anymore. You can be killed for loving someone everyone thinks is wrong to love. You could be raped and murdered, because the idea of just raping a woman or a child doesn’t exist on its own. You unknowingly have the blood of the million sewer cleaners in your locality on your hands. With all this already going on, the fact that a majority of our population thinks it’s okay to kill in the name of religion is altogether more baffling. But it’s real and at our doorstep. These problems I speak of didn’t just appear one day and will not disappear overnight. Simply trying to understand this obsession with hate and violence is what will probably help us find a solution to ending it and unfortunately, the process will take a lifetime and much more.

The struggle for identity is where hate stems from. Every individual person, on either side of the fence, is constantly at war with themselves over whether to help others or themselves. Yes, it comes from a place of privilege that I can choose between fighting the reason for the fire that could cause harm or simply jump into the fire to save someone else. And, it’s hard. One of my observations from participating in the Anti-CAA protests was noting how trivial most of our intentions are. Yes, we are united in fighting against the unconstitutional law that our government passed beneath our very noses, but unlike our opposition that fits perfectly under the umbrella of Hindutva, the rest of us are like siblings; we belong to one family but are constantly bickering with each other over some of the most useless shit sometimes. Our rage manifests itself in online verbal spats, unfriending and unfollowing on social media and sly tweets – all of which our “Hindu Khatre Mein Hain” (Hindu’s are under threat) brethren are watching from a distance and clapping. All it took was a few hateful words from someone to ignite this fire. And while our media continues to please both sides, it is a fact that the ones who have suffered the most, not just their lives but also their livelihood, belong to the Muslim community. In all this, it is also important to note how everyone in our problematic family comes together in the face of tragedy, like in Delhi right now and one can only regret not having stood up when the government decided to cut Kashmir off from the rest of us, blind-siding us completely. Better late than never, right? Too late, buddy, too late.

Delhi. February, 2020. Image: Reuters
Kashmir. August, 2019. Image: Reuters
Kashmir has faced the longest internet shutdown in the world.

I, personally, have been a wreck this past week. The constant updates and SOS messages from those afraid for their lives really shook me up and I found myself weeping uncontrollably at the oddest of hours. It makes you wonder then, if images of atrocities can cut through your very soul, how is it still possible for some to turn a blind eye. And it is then that I realise that by fuelling one’s fear of losing their identity, you can create the kind of monsters our PM and our Home Minister and their crew of sword-wielding ministers have successfully managed to do. They’ve created an army of poor, employed people who will do their dirty work, without them having to lift a finger. It’s difficult to hope that all of us on this side of the fence can band together despite our issues with one another, but there’s no harm in trying.

Until then, Inquilab Zindabad!

NO CAA. NO NRC.

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To a former friend, 
The proud ‘Sanghi’,
We always knew,
We wouldn’t agree,
You enjoyed the divide,
I favoured the free
Your rabid hate,
Now a reality,
But, we’ll learn to exist,
You and me.
(No CAA. No NRC)

To my former friend, 
The closet ‘Sanghi’,
You came as a surprise,
A jolt, actually,
You called me out,
On my stupidity,
I call you out,
On your bigotry,
Can we ever be friends? 
You and me?
(No CAA. No NRC)

To my former friend,
The star of the show,
Whose voice is now missing,
Who succumbed to the blow,
But, it’s never too late,
Dear friend, you know,
You will lose a lot, 
But, you’ll gain so much more! 
We can still be friends,
You and I, for sure.

To all my new friends,
Born out of this fight,
I salute your ability,
To chose what is right.
Please don’t lose hope
And don’t lose your might,
It may all seem dismal,
With no end in sight,
‘We won’t go gently,
Into the night’
This is a call to humanity, 
A call to unite! 

SCENES FROM A PROTEST: THE PERSPECTIVE OF A REGULAR INDIAN.

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My name is Tara Bhatnagar. I am a Hindu. My father, now deceased, was a Hindu. My mother is a Christian. My uncles and cousins are Muslim, Sikh and Christian. One of my aunts and my sister-in-law belong to Assam. We are Indian and a fine example of ‘National Integration’, something even my grandparents had no choice but to encourage. If they could, then the current Indian government holds no ground in their filtering of Indian citizens.

It is important to reiterate the fact that we are born into religion by chance and it is from our family’s values and our understanding of the world that we shape our beliefs. However, at the end of the day, we are all human beings with the same feelings; the same joys and sorrows and the same attachments and this should be reason enough to band together, even in the most testing of times.

I am not here to tell you how wrong the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) or the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are. I am not going to sermonise how unjust the new National Population Register (NPR) is either. There are women and men far more qualified to do this and I am happy to share their work. All I can say is that these laws, the BJP government is working relentlessly to pass, are unconstitutional and completely against the ethos of a secular, democratic India that our fore-fathers envisioned and successfully executed in 1947, when we gained freedom from the British. The financial implications of these bills are a whole different story.

Detained protestors protest under police supervision

Read: https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/1sXNPwNZJpqf5dkoisyp4Fu1xqA5q0ocP0rx4xyB6Ub4/mobilebasic

The recent “uprising by the people of India” as Umar Khalid, activist and former JNU student, calls it is proof that the people of this country are unwilling to blindly accept government orders. Having been a part of several protests across Delhi and the news from across the country, I can confidently say that the people of India are angry and are taking to the streets to show it. However, the government, in a show of strength has clamped down on states like Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka (in some measure) where the number of deaths and injuries from “alleged” police brutalities is, sadly, only on the rise.

Yogendra Yadav and Umar Khalid at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi

Watch:

1). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZNnIIxjkT0&list=PLYSfYVdrOZvgrZkL-AMP3S9UjPqpAIkA2&index=4

2). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8RJEA2Y0a4

While I am not surprised by Modi-Shah’s antics – it was pretty obvious (to me) after Godhra – it is the behavior of the police and the bhakts that really astonishes me. I have, over these last few days, lost a number of people I called friends because of their insistence that the CAA has nothing to do with the citizens of India and their claim that I was unnecessarily spreading discord and hate by joining the protests. My own explanation of my stance has fallen on deaf ears and the discussions have often turned ugly because, as you may already know, all bhakts have a standard script which turns absolutely vile when they’re unable to convince you that they’re right. Needless to say, good riddance!

Detained at Red Fort. Photo: Tarun Bharat Daily

My mother and I were detained from a protest at Red Fort on the 19th of December, 2019. It was, I have to admit, one of the most surreal things to happen to me. One minute I was chasing after Yogendra Yadav as he was being detained by the cops and the next minute I was in a bus myself. The police-women who dragged us to the buses stationed behind the barricades seemed scary in that moment but once the bus was sufficiently full and they got on, they were just bored and tired. Same for the men. They took us to an open stadium (read: makeshift jail) where all those detained were allowed to protest under police supervision. We were fed bananas and samosas and sing and chant, while they sat around on the grass, chatting among themselves. And, while I consider myself extremely lucky to have experienced a relatively easy day that day – a sort of picnic we couldn’t escape – not everyone can say the same. After the crackdown by the Delhi Police on the students of Jamia Millia Islamia on the 16th of December and the peaceful protest at Daryaganj on the 21st of December, one can’t be too sure if they still have their ideals intact. The death toll in Uttar Pradesh is proof enough.

Anti CAA + NRC protest outside Jamia Millia Islamia

What is remarkable, however, is the fearlessness of the citizens on the ground. Be it at Jamia, Jantar Mantar, Red Fort, Mandi House or Shaheen Bagh, the people are unwilling to give up! At this point, I’d just like to add that the winter this year in Delhi is unforgiving. I went to the protest at Shaheen Bagh last night; a silent protest by women who have been camping on the main road 24×7 for the last 13 days, with their kids in tow. They are not only protesting against the CAA-NRC that attempts to strip them of their citizenship but also in solidarity with the students of Jamia, many of whom are their own children. The area is cordoned off by a rope, inside which the women and children sit facing a podium, the men surrounding them. There is a steady supply of food and hot chai, prepared by the protestors themselves and speeches by various speakers ranging from students, lawyers, actors and academics. With the temperature hitting a minimum of 5 degrees, it is overwhelming how relentless these brave women are. One can only hope that these collective protests bear (sensible) fruit. ‘Don’t be silent. Don’t be violent’ is the mantra of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and it is essential that we adopt it.

The brave women of Shaheen Bagh

Be it the imposing of section 370 in Kashmir or the Ayodhya verdict or the agitation in Assam, none of these incidents really provoked the people of India the way the CAA and NRC have. There has been visible awakening in the masses, albeit a little late, but it will take a lot to quell this fire. And while, you may have had enough of sitting silently and decided to fight, a time like this can also be extremely unnerving for some. It is necessary for everyone with or without a voice to stand up now, educate yourself and those around you and even though it isn’t important to be everywhere, it is important to get out of your house and show solidarity with those on the streets. It is simply not enough to sit in front of your televisions or on your phones / laptops and absorb the government’s injustice. Also, carry food and water wherever you go. You never know where you might get stuck during a protest or a shut down. Or you might just get detained! Be prepared!’ And while I am no expert on protests, I beg you not to lose momentum. Not now in any case.

Shaheen Bagh

Let me just end by saying that the one good thing the BJP government has done is unite all of us against their attempts at vote-bank politics. The fact that they have failed us as a nation isn’t hidden any longer. The idea of a Hindu-rashtra may be an exciting prospect for some, but let’s not forget the ONE thing we were taught repeatedly in school: ‘United we stand. Divided we fall.”

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The CAA and NRC in a nutshell:

CAA: https://www.instagram.com/p/B6SKYRDJPjv/

NRC: https://www.instagram.com/p/B6UreATJJR5/

Art by: Sharath Ravishankar (Follow: https://www.instagram.com/shirtshanks/?hl=en)

You can also follow me on Instagram for regular updates about protests and CAA/NRC related posts: https://www.instagram.com/tara_bhatnagar/?hl=en