An Idea Cannot Be Jailed

Old men, however powerful, or, drowned in the heady intoxication of their own glory and greatness, should rethink their relationship with the young, with or without a generation or ideological gap. Especially, those who are dissenters, thinkers, protesters, rebels, contrarians, idealists, dreamers – who don’t agree with ‘their’ idea of the world! And who refuse to succumb, come what may – police atrocities, prisons, draconian laws, huge charge-sheets, concocted charges, fake news, demonization in the sold-out media, and a priori condemnation as ‘anti-nationals and terrorists’.

Why should the old and powerful refuse to learn lessons from history? Power does not hold forever. No greatness is eternal. Time is never a great healer. Immortality is impossible. Prisons and injustice cannot kill ideas or idealism. Perhaps delayed, justice too must arrive, one day. Hope floats. And dreams don’t die so easily, especially in the hearts of the young.

So why are the those hailed as Dear Leader, the Great Helmsman, Prophet, Iron Man or Messiah, with the entire State apparatus and media at their command, therefore, obsessed with the paranoia that some young scholars are their enemies?  Why are they so afraid of their youthful dreams?

The young are not the enemies of an ‘open society’. If the open society is flawed and fragmented, is it their fault if they are choosing to ask questions? Those in power should have the courage to agree and disagree, argue and discuss, establish a dialogue and discourse, accept a paradigm shift; why gag the voices of the young? Why lock them up in prisons? Why condemn and exile those who defy and deny their power and authority? And why should such old men, who have lived their life of power to the full, hate the educated, critical, thinking, young women and men, who are just beginning their adult journeys, with such ferocity and venom?

The young are doing what they should in any open society: Doubt everything! This is a philosophical and political quest! If India is unequal and in-egalitarian, if its secular ethos is being destroyed by a brazen neo-Nazi narrative, and if the State seems so brazenly partisan and one-dimensional, is it wrong to seek answers, while seeking to protect the original principles of the Indian Constitution? Is it a crime to peacefully oppose a communal law like the CAA and defend the secular and pluralist values of the Indian freedom movement?

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Whose portraits were splashed all over Jamia and Shaheen Bagh when mothers, sisters, daughters and students sat on a prolonged sit-in, stoic, non-violent, steadfast, for months, in the freezing winter, like the farmers now for months at the borders of the capital? Did the powerful men in Delhi bother to see those portraits and posters?

They belonged to the freedom movement: Sarojini Naidu, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Ashfaqullah Khan, Sardar Patel, Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Gandhi, among others. So was that a crime, to remember and resurrect these icons yet again, and how was it anti-national?

There is no absolute truth or absolute power. One day, the rigid walls of authority must break or crumble, finally. That is, if humanity wins over inhumanity, wisdom over arrogance, and justice over injustice. Or, as streams of a new consciousness turns everything sublime; the sudden, inevitable arrival of a great moment of history, a revelation, a revolution, a fantastic kaleidoscope turning the  four seasons luminescent with its rainbow colours!

It happens. It is possible. This is an inspiring lesson, from here to eternity. This is because such intense luminescence of stoic resistance is never measured in terms of defeat and victory in history. They burn in the sky like magic realism, meteors, shooting stars, full moon tides – and they never die –  not even in one hundred years of solitude. They are etched in the pages of history.

So what did the graffiti writers write during the spontaneous students’ uprising on the wall of Sorbonne near Paris in May 1968? Or, what did the students of JNU, on their own campus in 1983 and 1989, resurrect from this shared past? The same graffiti on the wall: Society is a carnivorous flower; Give Flowers to the Rebels who Failed; We won’t forget. We won’t forgive. We won’t let them get away. And then they all sang the same songs: All in all, we are just another brick in the wall… The answer is blowin’ in the wind… We are in the same boat brother!

In India, there were other songs too. The various versions of The Internationale, and, of course, the eternal greats: ‘Woh Subah Kabhi to Ayegi’ by Sahir, Tu Zinda hai to zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar by Shailendra, and Hayei Samhalo Dhaan by Salil Chaudhury, among other immortal renditions of revolution and freedom. This was the dream in the insomniac eyes of the young, a new world, a new dawn, a new language of secular, enlightened democracy, a new egalitarian freedom based on total equality and human dignity. 

ALSO READ: ‘Our Songs Give Voice To Farmers Protest’

The human condition must change – that was the dream. Then, now, and in the days to come. In a nation which celebrates this dream. Not clampdown on campuses, young minds and ideas. Not mob-lynchings – not in my name please! Not a Police State. Not a crackdown on peaceful protests and non-violent dissent. Not NRC/CAA, UAPA and jail!

The British hanged the young, including Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqullah Khan, Ramprasad Bismil, Sukhdev, Rajguru, Khudiram Bose, among others. They put others in the horrible torture chambers of Andaman’s ‘Kala Paani’, including the adivasi rebels led by Birsa Munda, who fought with their bows and arrows against the guns and cannons of the British, in the hills of Jharkhand in the late 19th century. They killed young Birsa in prison – he was just about 20 – poisoned to death, murdered.

Later, among others, they murdered Master Surya Sen, the leader of the Chittagong armed struggle led by the young; he was so brutally tortured that it is difficult to narrate it. They put freedom fighters in jail for many years. They enacted the Jalianwala massacre!

Did it then stop the young to dream of a new India? Did it stop Udham Singh and Bhagat Singh? Did it crush the dream? Did the young refuse to join the freedom and revolutionary movement because of the fear of death or prison or torture? No.

Rhetoric apart, remembering the Machiavellian metaphor, a government should not only appear to be democratic, it should prove its democratic credentials as an everyday national reality. While we remember how Indian democracy was ravaged during the Emergency, let’s not run away from the horror stories of the contemporary times in India, especially after May 2014. And there are umpteen unhappy examples to prove that.

That is why the bail given to Natasha, Devagana and Asif became a cathartic moment of joy and relief across the nation. That is why the metaphor and reality of ‘Pinjda Tod’ flew on the wings of emancipation, freedom and justice! That is why, Umar Khalid and all those brilliant scholars and peaceful dissenters  in prison were remembered at the gates of Tihar Jail in Delhi, amidst youthful slogans and songs, which celebrated these young idealists and dreamers of India, our future of hope, and reminded the nation, how truly unjust, and revengeful, it all is. 

Natasha said, outside the Tihar Jail, that all the women prisoners laughed when they were told that she and Devangana were branded ‘terrorists’! Indeed, you might agree or disagree with them, but even their hardened opponents know it deep inside their hearts – these young scholars are not ‘terrorists’. They are committed and courageous young intellectuals, dissenters and rebels, and they have a right to peacefully protest, under the Indian Constitution.

Natasha said, talking of the ‘prison inside’, and, perhaps, of the ‘prison outside’: “We should think – what kind of society are we making!”

And Devangana replied, when asked what if they are once again sent back: “Knowing the prison inside now, we are not afraid anymore!”

Surely, prisons cannot kill ideas. Or, the dream of a just, secular and humane society. Truly, that is what the ‘bailed’ freedom of Natasha, Devangana and Asif teach us.

Nasreen Javed Lucknow Social Activist

‘Police FIRs, Arrests Can’t Break The Spirit Of Dissent’

Nasreen Javed, 32, from Lucknow says the unfair methods used by a repressive state, like police FIRs and arrests, cannot crush the spirit of dissent in Indian democracy

Lucknow Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb ke liye jani jati hai. Yani yahan log ek doosre ki izzat karte hain, ek doosre ka sath dete hain (Lucknow is known for its inclusive culture and people here respect, support and take stands for each other). The government has tried its level best to break this cohesiveness, but they haven’t managed to so far. Nor have they managed nor will they succeed in breaking the spirit of young activists like Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Asif Iqbal Tanha, my fellow protestors or me.

The government had perhaps thought that if they arrest or unnecessarily hound youngsters, they might rot in jail for the rest of their lives, but the collective soul of India is far greater than the hatred that is brewing in it right now.

I have always raised my voice against injustice and untruth, but with CAA- NRC protests, I ensured that my voice is heard loud and clear and it doesn’t slow down. I was one among the group of 11 women who started the CAA protest at Ghantaghar in Lucknow and participated for 66 days in a row. With a three-month old adopted daughter in tow I braved it all. I have nearly eight to ten FIRs against me, all for taking a stand during the CAA- NRC protests. But I am not scared. I am not doing anything wrong.

Nasreen Javed with fellow protestors in Lucknow

Police acted in heartless manner to break our last year’s protests. Our blankets were taken away extreme cold; our food wasn’t allowed to reach the protest sites; they would pour cold water on the bonfires. I still remember an amber reaching my hijab and singing it when cold water was poured on the fire to put it out. But they cannot pour cold water over our spirit and dampen it.

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Even if I have to go to the jail for this cause I am not scared. Sach ki takat alag hoti hai, uska jazba hi alag hota hai (Being on the side of truth lends you a different kind of courage). Perhaps we have the same courage, same spirit that our freedom fighters had during the Freedom Struggle. We are freedom fighters.

The police have been unrelenting in trying to find ways to break our spirit, but so far we have also managed to hold on. As Natasha Narwal said, having strong family support gives you the courage to carry on with your fight for truth. There were times when the police would wake my in-laws in the dead of the night and ask them to bring me to the police station (while I was at the protest site) or they would be arrested. Why hassle old people?

Anti-CAA protestors hold indefinite fast in Lucknow

I go to the court for hearing every 15 days and even with the fear of Covid-19 lurking everywhere I am standing strong. A life that has meaning in it is worthwhile. Thank God my family understands why I feel so strongly about CAA-NRC. It is about ‘exclusion’ while our Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb and even India at large is about ‘inclusion’.

We are raised in a way that we are taught to include. I wonder what’s going on in the minds of our leaders. They were subtly/indirectly saying that persecuted people from other countries, from communities other than Muslims would be granted citizenship. But can the government also ensure that their living standard would become better? What about the living standards of the people already settled here? Dialogue is the need of the hour.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘Traffic At Shaheen Bagh A Mess But A Small Price For…’

Mohammad Atif, a 24-year-old M Tech student who stays in Shaheen Bagh, says the cause to save our Constitution is bigger than the minor inconvenience for the local commuters in the locality

I belong to Lucknow but have been staying in south Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area for several months at my cousin’s house. I came here to complete my M. Tech dissertation which coincided with the eruption of Jamia protests and the aftermath. And what a time it has been to be in Shaheen Bagh!

I had to visit my institute in South Delhi daily when the protests were in full swing. I did have to take a longer route to reach because of the arterial 2.5 km stretch at Shaheen Bagh being closed. The protest site isn’t disturbing people as much as the excessive blockades /barriers put in place by the administration even when some feel they are not needed.

ALSO READ: ‘Govt Must Talk To Protesters’

Even newspapers/websites are now reporting that a few of the alternative routes didn’t even need to be blocked and is causing problems to people unnecessarily, especially those travelling to and from Noida, Sarita Vihar, Kalindi Kunj, Jamia, and an alternative route to Faridabad.

Indeed travelling into and out of Shaheen Bagh is even more cumbersome for a daily commuter. For me too, with petrol prices remaining consistently high, travelling the extra stretch to reach my institute on a bike has increased the budget for sure, though not considerably.

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Many people who earlier used to get picked up and dropped at their respective houses for their offices in Noida now have to take the Metro as the cabs can’t enter inside Shaheen Bagh. This might be a difficult thing, especially for women who get dropped during the night. Moreover, travelling in the Metro also cause a dent in many people’s pockets. Middle class might not feel the pinch as much, but the lower income group for whom every penny is important, is finding it more difficult.

However, most locals are considering it as their contribution to nation-building and don’t mind suffering a little bit if the protest makes their voices reach the powers that be. Ambulances and school buses are moving easily though.

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The protest site is near the commercial hub of Shaheen Bagh, so many a shop, outlet etc. have been closed for two months now. It is affecting the livelihoods of people, but again they feel that they are contributing in saving the Constitution and all that it stands for. We just hope that a solution is reached soon and the government initiates a dialogue with the protesters.

There are a few residences near the protest site and I wonder how they are handling all the sounds from loudspeakers day in and day out, though I have been told and have witnessed too ke protest bahut tameez se ki ja rahi hai. Poora khayal rakha ja raha hai ke kisi ko koi pareshani na ho (The protests are being done in a very nice manner and care is being taken that nobody suffers because of the protests).

Anti-Citizenship Law Protest In Delhi

‘If Amit Shah Can’t Budge On CAA, Shaheen Bagh Won’t Either’

Shaheen Kousar, a 44-year old protester at Shaheen Bagh, tells LokMarg why Muslim women have come out to resist Modi government’s move on Citizenship Act and National Register of Citizen

Yes, I am Shaheen from Shaheen Bagh. And I, along with many other women, have resolved to take this battle forward with my faith and inner strength. The Modi government has to listen to what we have to say about CAA-NRC. Is the government wondering as to why the Muslim women who did not take to streets even when the Triple Talaq Bill was brought in, have now come out in such a strong manner? Because now the very existence of our children and our own existence and this country’s social fabric is at stake.

Our protest site is located near NH-24 and is known as the Shaheen Bagh Highway. While some people are complaining that our protest is affecting traffic, many other people from other parts of Delhi are coming to us and interacting with us and telling us that they support us.

It is heartening to see that people from all religions are showing their love and support to us. It’s not like we don’t feel cold and tired. We go home only for 4-5 hours every day. But till the time we are at the protest site, people who have their residence near the site have opened their homes (including their kitchens and washrooms) for us.

People used to say that in big cities people don’t even interact with their neighbours, but look at the beauty of it, how people are now trusting complete strangers because they believe in a common goal. To put it succinctly, the warmth of human interactions isn’t letting us feel the cold.

Moreover, we are protesting in an organized manner. We have divided duties among ourselves. Some people are responsible for food, others for sanitation, and a few others for security. Thankfully the organisation of the protest has been so good that no untoward incident has taken place. Is bar aar ya paar wali bat hai (This is a do or die situation). If our Home Minister isn’t ready to go back an inch, then we are also staying put here.

It’s not like we don’t understand the nitty-gritties of what an act like CAA entails deep down. Having to manage chilly weather, biting winters coupled with rains, police batons, household work as well as office work, nothing is going to weaken our resolve that the government take this act back.

Amit Shah as well as our Prime Minister Narendra Modi have said it is just about giving citizenship to people (except Muslims) from three countries. Fine, but then what are these detention centres being prepared for? It is for those inside the country who won’t be able to prove their citizenship. The government is giving confusing signals whether detention centres exist or not. This time we aren’t going to take things at face value.

If they can hurt unarmed and vulnerable students in Jamia and JNU, who is to say that things are going to be better later on? The NRC exercise in Assam showed there were only 19 lakh people who couldn’t prove their citizenship, then the government brought in CAA. Now they are talking about NPR (National Population Register).

I am a director at a school and by God’s grace, like many other women, I have been able to manage my home, my professional life as well as coming to the protest site. We are doing all this for our nation, for our children and we hope God will keep providing us with the strength to carry forward. If the kids can be strong and fearless in the face of brutality fir to hum bhi beraham aur tang-nazar logon ke samne aawaz utha hi sakte hain. Magar hum wo aawaz shanti se uthana chahte hain. (if students can show their resistance to police brutality, we too can raise our voice against a suppressive, and narrow-vision regime. But we want to raise this voice democratically and peacefully). Our resolve should speak volumes.