Today's protester: not pink sarees or kurtas, but blue jeans

“In March, the Indian upper parliament passed a historic affirmative-action bill. If approved by the lower house, the law would reserve 33 percent of all parliamentary seats for women. You might think this would be well-received by rural women in India. But they long ago gave up on the government and have taken things into their own hands. India is witnessing a rise of vigilante groups, the most sensational of which is the gulabi, or pink gang, operating in the Bundelkhand district of the Uttar Pradesh state, one of the poorest districts of India,” Slate wrote in July 2010 .

“But they long ago gave up on the government and have taken things into their own hands,” the article says.

Blue jeans are unisex, worn by males and females. And blue jeans are worn by all the classes – the rich, the middle class and the poor. AFP

We’re slowly seeing signs, across the country, of people giving up on the government. Unlike the pink saree gang, they haven’t yet taken things into their own hands in an organised manner.

What they have done, though, is tested the waters.

The Anna Hazare fight against corruption has proven that social activists have the ability to mobilise hundreds of thousands of the countries citizens.

That outpouring of public anger cannot be dismissed as an aberration – it’s becoming the norm. The protests against the recent brutal rape in Delhi, with protestors braving temperatures of 5 degrees C and less, has underlined that when there is public anger, people will come out on the streets.

Unlike the pink saree gang, which operates in semi-rural India, recent uprisings have occurred in urban India, with the middle class and the poor rubbing shoulders with each other. The pink saree gang would have bothered no politician save those in UP – but now it’s no longer pink sarees; we’re seeing blue jeans, white kurtas and designer tees as well.

Protests are now breaking out across the country, for causes small and large. If the largest was the anti-corruption movement, we’ve seen protests about rape, about the collection of garbage, about late running of trains, about lack of drinking water, about the delay in building infrastructure, even about the potholes on the roads.
What’s common to all these issues is the failure of the government, whether at the state or the centre, to manage the problems. A big signal to the political classes, though, is that we’re witnessing a joining of two forces – the middle class and the poor – in urban India.

The more frightening big signal, though, is that we seem to be nearing a boiling point. As of now, protestors have stayed Gandhian in their approach  since the launch of Anna Hazare’s movement being non-violent in nature, largely in the hope that the government would act. Continued inaction, though, could push the people over the brink.

Dealing with hundreds of thousands of non-violent protestors is very, very different from dealing with a few thousand violent ones. We saw hints of what could happen when the Delhi police barricaded the India Gate area in the Delhi rape protests, when they had to resort to the use of water cannons to control the crowds. The images tell the story – now it’s blue jeans. That’s young, urban, aspirational and frustrated. And angry.

That’s what the authorities need to fear. Blue jeans are a lot more difficult to deal with than pink sarees. Blue jeans are unisex, worn by males and females. And blue jeans are worn by all the classes – the rich, the middle class and the poor.

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