Year of anger and activism

This was a year of protests and arrests. Of activism and muzzling of activism. Of Indian democracy taking to the streets and of moves by the government that violated the letter and spirit of democracy. Aseem Trivedi and his cartoons. His arrest and release and the strident voices of protest against his arrest. Baba Ramdev and his protest against black money and corruption. The clampdown on his protest at night. Ramdev’s arrest and release. Anna Hazare’s fast. His arrest and release. The outpouring of protest by common people on streets during Hazare’s fast. The innocent Facebook remark of a girl over the
in Mumbai after Bal Thackeray’s death. The arrest of the girl and her friend who ‘liked’ her comment and their release. The vehement protest against their arrest by common people. The gang rape of a woman in Delhi. Her unsuccessful struggle for life. The harsh police action against protests by common people on the issue of safety of women.

What emerged last year was the anger of people on a lot of issues – corruption, misuse of their might by politicians, crimes against women. But ultimately, it was anger against the system and the people – legislators and the executive – manning the system. This anger was not a sudden outburst. It had been building for a long time and came to a boil many times last year. I am reminded of poet Dushyant Kumar’s lines, ‘Rakt varshon se nason mein khaulta hai / Aap kehte hain chhanik uttejana hai’ (Blood has been boiling in my veins for years and you say it is a momentary flash).

For a long time people had felt that the entire spectrum of activities in India, ranging from the polity, economy, judiciary and executive to media and society, had not been healthy and fair. The people of the country provide the manpower for all the activities. So if there is corruption or a morbid attitude towards women, the malaise is not confined to particular classes of society but prevalent in all sections. If one strictly follows the rule book, I think there would be very few totally honest people in India. Take the outlook of society towards women. Rape is an extreme case of a sick mentality regarding women, but much milder forms of unhealthy ways of looking at women are common in society.

It was good that the anger against ills in society was expressed by people. But it is also necessary for people to look within and check out the extent to which they have shades of the thing they are protesting against. It may be argued that it would be wrong to look for the black of corruption and other maladies and the white of honesty and good health. But when it comes to grey shades in between, it is impossible to decide which shades of grey are wrong and which are right. Everybody would have his own definition of right and wrong. Some people said that Hazare’s or anybody else’s campaign against corruption or other problems related to conduct and character of people will fail because there are few people who are totally white. Most people are some shades of grey. So an agitation against corruption would amount to people turning against themselves. The activism changes its domain from politics, economics and social science to psychology and spirituality for it amounts to deep soul searching and looking inwards.

What stood out last year were not just the protests of people on different issues but also the way the authorities handled them. The handling, from the desperate attempts to pin corruption on Ramdev and Hazare to treating activism as primarily a law and order issue, was not mature. The political biggies seemed to have panicked and appeared threatened by the activists. It is the people who elect parliamentarians. It is a black sign for democracy if the issue of corruption becomes a battle between the people and Parliament.

The legal argument can be brandished that the will of the people is represented by Parliament and not by the anti-corruption protestors. But that is only the letter of law. The spirit of law enjoined that legislators honourably address the people raising their voice against corruption and not dismiss their complaints as wild shouting and screaming.

Our polity rests on the collective voice of ‘we, the people’. Every section of this ‘we’ counts. Legislators turned the protests last year into contests of ‘them verses us’. The exclusiveness of this demarcation between ‘them’ and ‘us’ from the view points of both the people and the legislators is not healthy for our democracy for it negates the notion of ‘we’ enshrined in our Constitution.

The protests of people were fuelled by the belief that they were cleaner than the legislators and other forms of authority. The way the authorities fought the protests gave the impression that they felt besieged because they are dirtier than the people and have many things to hide.

Let’s hope the sage counsel of 2012 is heeded and its negative energy left behind.

May 2013 be the best year ever. Amen.

Amit Shekhar is a senior journalist and columnist

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