Some lessons from the highway of hate

notinmyname

NotInMyName protests in  Delhi. Courtesy BBC

There has been a raging debate on the recent #NotInMyName protests in multiple Indian cities, against the lynching of 15-year-old Junaid Khan on a Mathura-bound train a few days before Eid.

My entire family was at Jantar Mantar that evening. It was smallish gathering, no doubt, a couple of thousand people at most. It was a peaceful and determined collective, not uniform at all in terms of economic strata. There was a sense of anger, restrained. There were attempts to make it political, but these were firmly and politely put down by the organizers. The people who spoke, recited poetry or sang did so mostly in Hindi or Urdu

All told, it was democratic — that evening filled me with hope.

Looking at the reactions over the past week, it appears that many liberal voices feel that such protests do not have any impact. Because, we — the urban, rich, educated lot — do not matter, our voices do not resonate in Northern India.

I disagree — every little protest matters, because those participating are agitating against these attacks that damage the spirit of India’s diversity, and are at variance with the India’s Constitution. There may be few, but there are enough “good” men and women, who will carry forward that message. Many of them are in positions of power. Don’t underestimate the power of amplification.

Now comes the tricky bit — How do you get this message across to the parts of Northern India, where incidents of intimidation and communal violence play out on a regular basis? You need the right language. The Police has to be sensitized to be ever-alert to protecting the peace and individual rights in a volatile situation. The Judiciary has to be watchful and quick to act.

It is not going to be easy. Consider Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP recently anointed Hindu harliner Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister. The BJP’s massive victory has emboldened right wing fringe groups to take the law in their hands. During a recent drive from Haridwar to Delhi, we encountered gangs of young men dressed in saffron, faces covered, zipping about in motorcycles. They are like Hindutva storm-troopers, having a bit of boyish fun, with the underlying threat of violence never far away.

Frankly, this is scary stuff. The menace is palpable. Anything can happen. In a Facebook post, Rathi Varadarajan writes about our car drive to Delhi.

Today while driving back from Kanatal, we saw numerous families on motorbikes. I have to admit, I was a bit anxious for these families who were obviously out to celebrate Eid. With so much happening, one never knows when the next incident will happen.

Somewhere between Haridwar and Roorkee, I saw three motorbikes, two men each on them with their faces covered, with religious yellow and saffron flags fluttering away.

Some sixth sense told me to keep an eye on them. I spotted an elderly gentleman with a white kurta pyjama and sporting a skullcap walking on the side of the highway. In a flash, these three bikes – six young men – surrounded him and started to say something. I immediately pulled up alongside. The men turned, took a good look at our car and then moved on.

It could have been nothing and yet it could have been something.

While tailing the men, I did wonder whether it was safe, given that our boys were in the car with us. But then how else will our children learn that they should never keep quiet when they see something wrong taking place?

It is precisely for this reason that Sunit and I have also decided to take them to Jantar Mantar tomorrow at 6pm

There is only one way to actively protect India’s diversity and a way of life. Stand up for what is right. Protest. Make a noise. Scream. Argue. Wade in. Debate.

Whatever it is, do not remain silent. That time has passed.

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