Akash Banerjee, a political satirist and a youtuber who runs a community called The Deshbhakt (The Patriot), made a video recently called ‘The Republics on The Road’. It was really very intriguing and compels us to ask an important question to ourselves: Where are we heading to?
26th January 2020 was when the two Republic Day celebrations were held simultaneously in India. First, the one which happens every year at Rajpath, by the Defence forces, government, and the top officials. The other, on the roads, by the common people protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Cut to next year. The time has passed, but the situation has remained the same, except that the matter for protest has changed from CAA to the Three Farm Laws. This time the large crowd of farmers organized a tractor rally in Delhi (more on that later). And the period between the two events has also remained the same. The year 2020-21 witnessed so many protests, that, I think, no other government has previously seen. Let us look at all the major ones pointwise:
An amendment which ought to give citizenship to the refugees on the basis of religion, the CAA faced huge criticism. The intellectuals, the professors, the minorities, and the students, all came together for a mass struggle. Shaheen Bagh not only became the epicenter of the movement, but also a symbol of feminism.
Bilkis Dadi, one of the activists in Shaheen Bagh, was also listed under TIME’s ‘Most Influential People of 2020’. ‘Stand up for India’, an initiative by many stand – up comics, in support of the protest became very popular at this time. Apart from this, many lawyers have also argued that the Act discriminates on the basis of religion and is a violation of Article 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution. Ramchandra Guha, a famous historian, even writes that the law was “immoral, illogical, and ill timed.” But, the movement lost its pace as the pandemic arrived, and still we are waiting for the judgement of the Supreme Court on it.
On 5th January 2020, more than 50 masked people entered the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and brutally attacked the students in the hostel with sticks, rods, acids, and whatever they could find. After the incident, students from various universities condemned the incident. Many celebrities came out on the streets in support of the victims. But, nothing has happened until now. The police can also be seen in the photos, doing nothing when the whole incident was taking place. One can also easily recognize the faces of some rioters, but not even a single person has been arrested yet. The question is, who are those people trying to save all of them from the investigation? Maybe someone who controls the Delhi Police.
Hathras gangrape was one of the most shameful incidents that took place last year. A 19-year-old girl was gang – raped by four men and after fighting for her life in the hospital, she died few days later. On top of that, the victim’s family was locked in their house, and the victim was cremated by the administration in the middle of the night. Uttar Pradesh IT minister, and more or less the whole State government said that no rape took place, which was later proved wrong by the Central Bureau of Investigation. This stunning incident was called out by a lot of activists. After the incident, not even the journalists were allowed to go near the family. The route to their house was blocked by the police, saying that they have got the orders to do so. Siddique Kappan, a journalist, who was going to cover the case was booked under the anti – terror law UAPA. Massive protests took place in many parts of the country.
The Farmers’ Protest
Last year, bills related to agriculture, referred to as the three Farm Laws were hurriedly passed in the Parliament. Farmers were clearly not happy with the laws and protested against it. They believe that these laws would encourage the private players to take over the markets and give them lower prices for their yields. They also say that none of the farmer unions were consulted before making these laws. The government says that all the laws are made to double the farmers’ income by 2022. Therefore, the government was not willing to listen to them until farmers, majorly from the states of North India, organized rallies to go to Delhi. Despite brutal repression by the government, a large number of farmers sat in the border areas of the capital city of India. Not even the staggering cold weather could discourage them. And hundreds of them have died in the process. They also organized a tractor rally on the republic day to show their power. But, it went violent in many parts. Although the farmer leaders have condemned the violence, I think that they should not run away from taking the responsibility. This does not mean that the rally was a failure. It was peaceful too in many parts, and the locals welcomed them as well.
PMC Bank Depositors
Last year, in the month of February, a limit was put on the withdrawal of money from the Punjab and Maharashtra Bank. The bank had illegally given 73% of their loans to a single firm, which had gone bankrupt. In order to avoid bank run, RBI had put a moratorium on its withdrawals. But, in that process many of the depositors had to suffer a lot. A 68 year old man died due to cardiac arrest because of stress. One can imagine the plight of those whose life savings were there in the bank and could not even take out their own money. Hence, they protested in various parts of Mumbai, and even outside RBI Governor’s house. The thing to worry is that the PMC was a very small bank, but even the bigger banks are facing the problem of NPAs and can have the similar fate especially after the pandemic.
The Migrant Crisis
When an unprecedented decision by the Indian government resulted in a nation – wide lockdown, people who were affected the most were the daily wage workers. Although it was not a protest, but it definitely demonstrated the failure of the government to take care of them and make a long term strategy for them in this pandemic. Migrants hit the road in order to reach their home town. At a time when the transport was not working, they walked hundreds of miles, children in their hands, fighting the hunger, to reach their destination. The heart wrenching visuals broke everyone’s heart. And at this time the humanity rose above all. People came forward to help them as much as they can. Sonu Sood, the film actor became the messiah of the poor by taking them to their homes in every possible way.
Other than all these there were protests from the Indian Medical Association (IMA) regarding the circular of Ministry of Ayush which gave permission to ayurvedic doctors to perform 58 non – critical surgeries. Although the ministry clarified that they were already doing some surgeries but it was not anywhere in law books, and the new circular is just to put it in the law books. But, the debate continues.
Usually Akash’s videos are satirical and full of sarcasm, but this time it was serious and full of emotions. And it is very much important to be serious and get above sarcasm. Freedom of expression is much more than sending good morning messages on Whatsapp. Whatever be one’s ideology or belief, government by consent is the very spirit of democracy. And one should always remember that government is accountable to us, not the vice – versa.