A Tool Kit For All IndiansBloombergQuintOpinion
In a country that arrests a stand-up comic for jokes he was “going to” crack, it’s easy to believe that a standard-issue social media campaign kit shared on Twitter by a teenager can result in a first information report by the Delhi Police, instructed to interpret it as a call to “wage economic, social, cultural and regional war against India.”
Right now that teenager, Greta Thunberg, is likely thinking about the Home Ministry: “How dare you...”, as she famously told world leaders in 2019.
But the FIR is just distraction from the importance of Thunberg’s intervention: By backing farmers who are protesting thousands of miles away from her, she redirected our attention to our embarrassing inability to stand up for our fellow citizens.
Six years have zipped by in a haze as we mainlined hate and anger. We’ve lived through the dystopia of lynchings and other hate crimes; pitted Eid against Diwali; watched institutions crumble; seen victims arrested and criminals go scot free. We’ve publicly stripped the Mughals of their Indianness; jailed scores of students and activists for exerting their right to dissent; attacked Kashmiri students; shrugged off rising caste crimes and let the government withhold key data that could tell us what’s really going on.
Our heroes have included a man who recorded himself murdering another man and an Islamophobic, sexist chief minister who believes that “…when women acquire men like qualities, they become (‘rakshasa’) demon like”. We introduced discriminatory citizenship laws and utilised a pandemic to spread Islamophobia. Just recalling the “highlights” is exhausting.
Restate The Obvious And Blame It On Our Courts
Stop any argument in its tracks with the rich history of Indian case law. “Every citizen has a right to celebrate any festival peacefully” (Allahabad High Court). “Love recognises no barriers” (Kerala High Court). “A person not only has a right of conscience, the right of belief, the right to change his belief, but also has the right to keep his beliefs secret…..Why should any human being be asked to disclose what is his religion?” (Himachal Pradesh High Court). “What makes life meaningful is love. The right that makes us human is the right to love. To criminalize the expression of that right is profoundly cruel and inhumane” (Supreme Court quoting Leila Seth). “Deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many” (Supreme Court).
Write A Love Letter
Not to your partner, but to a political prisoner thanking them for paying the price of dissent.
“Anand, your ideas have spread like wildfire, even as the powers that be seek to restrict, isolate and crush you,” a group of his friends wrote in 2020 to scholar and activist Anand Teltumbde, imprisoned in Mumbai’s Taloja jail since last April. “Your pronouncements about the dangerous times we have created have woken up people, especially (but not only) the young. The energy that you brought to every word that you spoke or wrote over the last four decades nourishes those at the forefront of change today.”
Read my related piece on letters from prison here.
Create Your Own Positive News
So what if the newspapers are filled with bad news? Create your own good news. Help an interfaith couple. Fight against housing discrimination in your building or neighbourhood. Offer legal or psychological aid. Contribute to independent media. Encourage friends and family to give staff an annual festival bonus equivalent of a month’s salary. Quit bigoted groups. Don’t be scared to call out the haters and let them know that you’re not okay with what they're saying. Make every festival an interfaith celebration. Reclaim Ambedkar and Gandhi. Stand up for citizens’ right to dissent. Join protests. If you can’t go, amplify their voices on social media.
Read up about the contentious farm laws that have made farmers come out in the cold for 76 days; the Bhima Koregaon case in which 16 respected lawyers, human rights defenders and academics have been jailed, denied bail; and how courts across India acquitted members of the Tablighi Jamat, accused of spreading the Coronavirus across Indian cities. Use multiple, real sources. WhatsApp doesn’t count.
Train yourself. Don’t believe a lot of what you read and see.
As television anchor Ravish said while accepting the Gauri Lankesh Journalism Award in 2019, “If you love democracy you have to fight the media. Media has fought a long battle for democracy. But, today, things have changed. Throw away the newspapers, stop subscribing to television channels and get down to the streets.”
See The Big Picture
Citizens across the world are fighting authoritarian governments.
In Russia hundreds marched through the streets for a second consecutive weekend chanting “Freedom!” and “Putin is a thief!” In Myanmar, thousands are on the street demanding the end of military rule. In Brazil, protestors across political lines hit the streets demanding the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro, for his government’s mishandling of the pandemic.
This year the United Nations celebrated its first International Day for Human Fraternity on Feb. 4 citing “deep concern” for acts of religious hatred that “undermine the spirit of tolerance and respect for diversity” especially in the midst of a pandemic.
Track protests in other countries. Support those fighting for their rights and the rights of others. Be inspired by the way Greta Thunberg and other Western celebrities spoke up for Indian farmers.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.