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THE RECENT NATIONWIDE arrests of 10 civil rights activists, poets and lawyers, by the Pune Police — under the guise of connections to the Bhima Koregaon riots — and the surrounding political atmosphere, have been compared to the 1975 Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi.
While the first wave of arrests took place in the early hours of 6 June 2018, the next crackdown — on 28 August — came knocking at the midnight hour (much like the Emergency).
These crackdowns on dissenting voices, the ambush at a time of rest and (perceived) vulnerability make a strong case for jagte raho (stay awake/ stay woke) as resistance.
While jagte raho calls to mind the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA, who we will meet later in this series), ‘staying woke’ comes from vernacular African American English and has been closely associated with and popularised by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Outside of these specifics, over time the term has come to mean a call to awareness, alertness and action in politics, and also in the everyday.
There’s no moonlighting with staying woke. It’s a full time practice of considerable labour. Jagte raho — like a forever-vigilant guard on the beat — is easier said than done though. The constant wokeness, demanded by the contemporary moment — controlled by regimes and surveillance systems and algorithms and technologies, if one can be distinguished from the other at all — is designed to slip, tire and trip. It is designed to wear down those who don’t defer to its authority by depriving them of crucial moments of humour, rest, sleep, dream…
But things are not that altogether bleak.
Jagte raho — because possibility is known to come knocking at unearthly hours too.
A case in point would be India’s freedom at midnight, on 15 August 1947.
In the run up to that hour, Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first Prime Minister, asked a question that just won’t go away:
“The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?”
In this — our first series as part of Invisible Light — we look at what jagte raho means, or could mean, in the current political landscape and in the context of life at large, be it commuter train timetables or histories or street parties or dinner conversations.
We also look at the toll this process takes on those committed. And wonder if the toll can be depleted by enabling solidarities, which make possible the stealing of necessary moments of rest and retreat.
Jagte Raho: Index of Chapters
Chapter 1: Gagan Singh Slows Down The News
Chapter 5: Abhishek Hazra on How to Hide Your Hegel
Chapter 7: Hazarding guesses with Sahej Rahal
Invisible Light (Curatorial Note and Themes)
Committing a Dream (Curatorial Note and Chapters)
Gitanjali Dang is a curator, writer and overall shape-shifter. In 2012, she founded Khanabadosh, an itinerant arts lab.