Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Rise of the Guardians

UNPRECEDENTED protests swept Delhi during the last ten days. Women, students and youth constituted the majority, but it will not be an exaggeration to say that the entire population of Delhi is represented in these protests. They had come out onto the streets to express their indignation against the ghastly gangrape that had taken place in the national capital on December 16. The corridors of power in Delhi were virtually occupied by the people for consecutive days. Not surprisingly, the government was acutely found wanting.

Entire families came out on the streets – mother, father and children. They held a placard, often hand written or a printout taken from their personal computer, expressing their angst against the growing incidents of sexual harassment, demanding justice to the victim and that the guilty be punished. They also carried their digital cameras, not only capturing their moments of action but also the vast multitudes who had come out on the Rajpath.

Might be after a long, long time we are seeing once again parents encouraging and accompanying their children to protest!

Women predominated the protests. Women from all age groups were present on the street. They were bold, determined and the placards they carried reflected their anger, assertion and view towards life.

Students too were present in large numbers. They had come from their colleges and even schools. Many of them were in their uniforms, coming straight from their schools, many of which are government schools.

Young employees from multinational corporations and BPOs were present. These young professionals brought out their creative best to the protests.

For the last two days, the protests have lost their intensity, but are continuing with reduced participation.

A day after, a shopkeeper with genuine concern was asking, “Do you think the protests will have an impact?” Even during those days of intense protests, the media too was asking more or less similar questions. Many of the protesters, a day before their participation in the protests, too might have harboured similar doubts. But shredding all their doubts into pieces and shedding away their inhibitions, they had come out to protest. Why?

Listen to a mother who was out to protest: “My daughter works as a lawyer and works in Gurgaon. She has to commute everyday to her work and returns late from work. Now she is afraid and so am I. Do you think it is safe? I am here to ensure her safety and safety for many like her”. She had fear for her daughter in her eyes and her voice was trembling when she spoke these words. Suddenly, there was a tear gas shell lobbed and people were running away from the canister. She too joined them. After the impact was over, she came back to her earlier place along with many others. There was no fear in her eyes. There was anger and determination.

There was a father and son duo. Son was a school going child. When he saw the police charging with their lathis, he shouted: “Bappa bhaag, police aarahi hai (Father, run, police are coming)”. The father was assuring him: “Nahin, hum duniya dekh chuke hain, abhi tumhara waqt hain, kuch nahin hoga (No, I had seen the world, now is your turn, nothing will happen)”. When was the last, one heard a father telling this to his son? Remember he is from middle-class!

There was a group of children in uniform. When asked they replied: “We came here straight from our school, after finishing our school day function. We read about these protests in the papers, saw them on the TV. We thought it is our duty to be here”. These are the very Generation X or Y or Next who were always thought to put self before anything else, partying before social concern and who are always looked at with scepticism about their treatment of girls and women.

There was a girl, who was dragged by her hair by a policeman. Yes, a policeman. She wriggled out of his grasp, ran a sprint and pushed him down to the ground from behind. There was not a sense of fear in her eyes. Only anger. She was a college goer, whom you would encounter on any given day in the Delhi metro. A timid girl, happily plugged to her earphones, listening to music and oblivious of the world around her. Today, she has a placard depicting boldly her world-view and nowhere can you find the timidity. When was the last we had noticed such a transformation?

The police did not know how to deal with these protesters. They are not the ordinary protesters, about whom they are ‘aware’ of. They are all from those sections who were with them, lamenting over the traffic jams, inconvenience to the office goers, college goers, etc. But now, when these very people are out on the streets protesting, the police were caught off-guard.

When water canon was trained upon them, tear gas shells were lobbed and police charged them with lathis, they retreated. Only retreated. They did not run away, afraid. Retreated, only to come back once again, with renewed determination and inextinguishable anger. When was the last, one had witnessed such a militancy?

Many of the protesters came spontaneously and from middle-class families. Majority of them are young. Mass organisations of the women, students, youth, trade unions, political parties and NGOs joined the protests. This diversity was reflected in the demands put forth, but not in action. Anger bound them together. In fact, the pent up anger burst, upon learning about the brutality of the December 16 incident. ‘Enough is enough', was the overwhelming feeling. Many of them felt if they do not come out even now, the situation might get even worse. It is this realisation of the need for social action that is the most significant aspect of these protests.

Many wanted the protests to remain ‘apolitical’, without realising that the very act of protesting itself is political. For them, the word ‘political’ has only a selfish connotation – an idea repeatedly fed by the media.

What did the protests achieve? First and foremost, they had brought the entire issue of sexual harassment, safety of women and gender discrimination before the national agenda. The prime minister was forced to talk about the issue in the National Development Council meeting. Theek Hai! The government was also forced to announce some measures to address these issues and concerns raised by the protesters. Insufficient they might be, but that the government was forced to act, is a point, whose importance should not be lost. Also, these protests had fixed a spot light on the police, from which they cannot escape easily with their lethargy/negligence/incompetence. Of course, there are always cynics, who look at the glass as half-empty. Yes, there are still members of parliament, ruling class party leaders who talk nonsense about women and protests. Yes, attacks on women have not stopped.

For all this to change for the better and a new dawn to usher, the struggle must go on. What we had waged is only a battle. The war is to be won and can be won. This confidence stems from the fact that in these protests importantly, the youth of our country came out on the streets. They are the guardians of the future, which is at stake. Dispel your fear and believe in yourself, join others to make it ours, is what the protests have taught our youth – the guardians of our future.

Rise guardians, stop not! The logical conclusion is to utilise the groundswell to carry forward the struggle for gender parity; sweep aside all those khap panchayats, fatwas and diktats that intend to pull back women; trample upon the ideas and institutions that look upon women as a commodity. Rise guardians, let the patriarchs tremble! Teach them to respect women – women as equal human beings. Rise guardians, raising your voice is not a service, but your duty as human beings. Rise guardians, rise! For the sake of future. For your sake. The time has come. Welcome 2013.

G Mamatha People's Democracy 30 December 2012

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