“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”
A phrase written by the English writer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall,
in her 1906 book, The Friends of Voltaire.
A life is a life is a life.
Today I write to mourn those who have passed. Loved ones, strangers. Those who passed naturally, those who died of un-natural causes, those who were killed, those who were assassinated, those who … all those who have passed. Because a life is a life is a life.
I must admit I am having difficulty understanding the culture that is evolving in India at the moment. No, not the culture of right-wing, fundamentalist movements – that was always there, under the surface, just like the left-wing, equally vociferous-for-a-different-ideology movements were always there, just as the equally convinced about their own convictions liberal-centrist movements have always been here. No, I am having difficulty understanding the ‘I Am Also…” Protest Movements culture that has crept up on us.
I understand Agitation. I understand Activism. I understand Propaganda. I understand Citizen Movements. As strategies to achieve democratic goals, each of these has proven a powerful instrument. But I don’t understand protesting under a banner, declaring solidarity with someone who has been killed in the line of civil, democratic duty, in the line of standing up for what they believed to be right.
I don’t understand people who say “I am Also…” And if they are ‘also’, then I am hoping that their ‘Alsoness’ will go beyond a banner and a stand-in or sit-in, and that most of the ‘Also’ people will not just go back to their lives, doing what they believe to be right, living life the way they deem it right, exercising their democratic rights the way they deem it fit. And am hoping that some of them will take up the cause, carry it forward? Stand up and speak every day every week every month every year? Stand up and speak alone? Because it’s that ‘going back to normal life’ of the broader masses that gives lawless people their strength: They know we will go on.
And that is the problem. This is not about dissent or sops, or reservations. This is about a person’s right to a life, a person’s right to have a different opinion and to be able to live to express that opinion.
For close to four decades now, I have watched people protest for many different reasons: for reservations, against reservations; for and against government, against crimes, against criminals, against policies, against politicians, for religions, for religious leaders … And I have come to understand that people think protest is an instrument of democracy, that it is an effective weapon to get what you want, for one to affect change.
I beg to differ.
I don’t view Protest as a tangible action in a democracy. It is a positioning statement, useful for garnering public opinion. But does it lead to change, or an improvement of the situation, or justice in the long-run? Am not sure, but I fair suspect that it takes a little bit more than banner-waving, candle-light vigils, and signing an online petition to achieve change (although all those are very credible supplementary initiatives to garner public opinion).
What does lead to change? In my opinion: Constant, everyday struggle in the direction of the desired change. Constant. Everyday. Struggle. Protest if you must, but be consistent about it so that it becomes an effective democratic instrument. If you want to protest against a crime, protest against all crimes, all the time. If you want to protest against a murder, protest against all murders, all the time. If you chose to be selective, then that there is the fault line. A crime is a crime is a crime. Just as a life is a life is a life. A journalist killed for speaking the truth, a common man killed for a religious belief, a common woman killed for saying no, a common child killed for protesting molestation … we shouldn’t choose which life and which crime to protest for. We either stand for all, or we pay the price one by one.
If enough people stand up when it matters, if enough people speak up when they should, if enough people exercise their right often enough to make authorities accountable for law and order, then, nobody will need to stand under the safety of a protest banner after unruly elements have killed another of the scattered, lonely voices that carry the burden of speaking up as a habit. A democratic society that is forever vigilant has the right to demand justice, not just whimper in protest.
Rest In Peace all those who have passed. Journalists. Farmers. Soldiers. Leaders. Followers. Activists. Passivists. Rape Victims. Flood Victims. Riot Victims. Building Collapse Victims. Gauri Lankesh. Manjunath Shanmugham. Satyendra Dubey. Parag Das. Narendra Dabolkar. Nirbhaya. All those who have passed.