Shaheen Bagh is a movement for democracy and peace, the protesters shun extremist ideology, writes AMU professor Syed Raza
In terming the protest taking place at Shaheen Bagh as a response to the 'intransigent arrogance of the state' as 'counterproductive', we are not just trivialising the democratic impulse of India but also in reality allowing the flawed understanding of democracy to gain ground
The idea of democracy, in its essence, gets served in what the theoretician of Justice John Rawls highlights in terms of bolstering the weakest link of the ‘chain’
When the weakest link of the Indian chain, its minorities, are coming out in support of upholding the hard-earned constitutional principles, it should be taken as a moment of reckoning by the Republic
Democratising impulse of this protest, from working women, to housewives, to young mothers, grandmothers and professionals, all registering their active participation, is something which is uniquely invigorating
It is heart-breaking for a student of politics to see that politicians are not ready to look beyond the immediate election and that the electorate is unmindful of the implication its vote bears on the country's polity. Intellectuals (increasingly) are deliberately closing their eyes when it is required for them to speak the truth, even academics who are considered to be the benchmark for clarity of view, with their visionary thinking ingrained in historical certification and future impact, also fail to present their views defying the cascading immediate spell.
In terming the protests at Shaheen Bagh as "counterproductive", which is a response to the "intransigent arrogance of the State", we are not only trivialising the democratic impulse of India but also in reality allowing the flawed understanding of democracy to gain ground. The idea of democracy, in its essence, gets served in what the theoretician of Justice, John Rawls highlights in terms of bolstering the weakest link of the ‘chain’. When the weakest link of the Indian chain, its minorities, are coming out in support of upholding the hard-earned constitutional principles, it should be taken as a moment of reckoning by the Republic.
At a time when the world over democracy is in decline — not just from the point of view of the scholars but global perception-wise too — people have a low opinion for democratic functioning, India’s case provides a ray of hope. Democratising impulse of this protest – from working women, to housewives, to young mothers, grandmothers and professionals — all registering their active participation, is something which is uniquely invigorating. Whereas the camaraderie evident from within the community in terms of diversity and intra-community reach is laudable, the solidarity extended by others from the extended citizenry in terms of all religions, sexual orientations, class, etc., what we may broadly term as inter-community camaraderie, is indeed commendable. The Muslim women hitherto painted in the national imagination as oppressed, suppressed and without their own agency taking the lead is a defining moment in Indian history.
It must be recalled that the purpose of any movement, more so movements like these, is not just to register your name in history. Such views apart from being atrocious, are demeaning too. Can the people facing the criminal negligence on the part of State machinery in the lived experiences of the everdayness of their lives, be justified in calling off their protests mainly because they can't speak of the arrogant government or even the mainstream national media (barring a few exceptions) are failing to voice their concerns?
While, as is expected in any organic mass based movement, there is a lot to look for in Shaheen Bagh, any suggestion to call it off on the basis of them becoming pawns will at best highlight a serious lack in our understanding of how dominantly powerful narratives spin nascent ‘protesting voices’ and render them with all possible negativity. Something which has been very brilliantly espoused in the well-documented colonial appropriation of the otherwise passionately fought anti-colonial struggles.
With regard to extremist pronouncements, since day one Shaheen Bagh has been against it. In fact, in the light of sinister propaganda machinery hell-bent on alluding extremist support to it, the old women spearheading the movement have on record said that they have nothing to do with such people. So much so, that in response to the Desh ke Gaddaro ko, Goli Maro Saalo ko, they crafted this slogan: "Desh kein Pyaaro par, Phool Barsaao Saaro par."
However, when the very idea of citizenship is at stake, seeking civility and avoiding provocation on the part of the weakest of the weak of the State, will be too much to ask.
If even after this, swayed by the concocted narrative and cleverly peddled ‘ misinformation’ backed by the all powerful State, someone has the temerity to even think of this protest in terms of partisanship and assuming that it will become a plaything in the hands of extremists, it is not just unfortunate but disappointing. Additionally, if academics fall into this trap and invoke Gandhi to call off the protests at Shaheen Bagh, it will be an affront to the sacrifices of those who laid down their lives for India’s freedom struggle.
The poignant Gandhian message which must be urgently recalled here is his message of fearlessness which satyagrahis must internalise. Calling off the protest in the light of fear and threat will be totally against Gandhian principles. It would be ethically, morally and constitutionally unjustified. The idea, hope and the future of India will depend on how Indian citizens resist the force of power, arrogance of those running the State, the flagrant misuse of electoral mandate and and not yield in front of the looming State.
The idea of India is alive and kicking. The grannies, girls and the downtrodden of India sustain the hope.
The author teaches at the Department of Strategic and Security Studies, Faculty of International Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh and is part of Aligarh Teachers and Seniors Collective.
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