Last updated on January 11, 2020
Not just anger towards the government, anti-CAA protesters also voiced their resentment against a section of the media
PERHAPS I SHOULD rename this column “Heart-breaking News”. The videos, the news reports in newspapers and on digital news websites, have made it amply clear that the UP government and its police force are going full tilt to implement the order of “badla” or revenge against Muslims protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). And not just those protesting. Even those passing by or hiding from the police in their homes, or well-known social workers, have been arrested, beaten up, harassed, shot at or had their homes vandalised.
This is no ordinary moment in this country’s history. Those of us who have lived through the years of the Emergency, from 1975-77, cannot remember another time when such a cross-section of people has come out on the streets. In 1977, people demanded the restoration of democracy. Today, they are asking the government to adhere to the fundamental values enshrined in the Constitution.
The full extent of this resistance and protest has, perhaps, not been fully communicated by the media. For one, mainstream media feels compelled to give space to official pronouncements. So even as people raise their voices and question the CAA, space and time are given to interviews and statements by different members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, including union ministers who go to great lengths to explain the harmlessness of the CAA. Even though they contradict each other, the purpose is served: to create confusion and doubt in the minds of those sitting on the fence. Despite this, however, the thousands opposing the law are not convinced, as is evident from the continuing protest marches and meetings.
Although at least some of the mainstream media, and practically all the digital news media, have reported the anti-CAA demonstrations around the country, the mood on the ground has not been fully captured. What motivates those who are walking on the streets, holding placards that they have made themselves? We hear the voices of celebrities, but not enough of ordinary people. Yet, their voices are extraordinary. Talk to anyone. You will hear a cogent and reasoned explanation about why they oppose the CAA.
I went to Mumbai’s August Kranti Maidan on December 19 and to Azad Maidan on December 27 to judge for myself why people from all walks of life felt compelled to step out of their comfort zones to protest.
I spoke to students and young professionals. A student doing his PhD at the Indian Institute of Technology explained how many of them had been disturbed in 2016, after the suicide of Rohith Vemula in the University of Hyderabad. That is when students from different universities came together. And what began then has continued.
This year, after the curtailment of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, they sensed that steps to alienate the Muslim minority would accelerate. But although they protested, they did not come out of their campuses. The CAA, he said, was literally the last straw, and many students felt they just could not hold back.
For a Muslim student from Jawaharlal Nehru University, who also attended the Azad Maidan rally, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Babri Masjid case was the inflection point. She said until then, she still had faith in the judiciary. After the judgment, she and others like her felt there was no institution left that understood their fears. And the CAA just confirmed this, she said.
Many young professionals from different fields, people who had never participated in any public demonstration also turned up. Design professionals used their skills to make posters, a standup comic held a placard that read: “I am from Gujarat. My documents burned in 2002”. Another poster stated: “BJP is great at maths as they can divide 1.3 bn in no time”. Such irony and humour has rarely been seen during protests in recent times.
I thought the point made by the IIT student, that the process of mobilising had already begun in 2016, was particularly significant.
For instance, many people have commented on the prominence of women students in the protests, particularly in Delhi, suggesting that this was something new and unusual. There is a hidden assumption that women only come out to protest when the issue affects them directly. It is as if women are not ‘citizens’!
The strong participation of women in the anti-CAA protests did not come about overnight. It has been part of several processes, such as the one initiated by a group called Pinjra Tod in 2015, coincidentally in the same Jamia Millia Islamia that is in the news today. Then they fought against curfew hours imposed by their colleges on women students living in the hostel. Since then they have intervened on many other issues on college campuses.
Today, you see these women leading the protests with calm determination and infectious innovation. For instance, there is a video clip of women students taking out a march after protesting outside the RSS Bhawan in New Delhi on December 25. When a police officer comes up to stop them, they break into song holding a banner stating that women will destroy Hindu Rashtra! The expression on the face of the police officer is priceless.
So the participation of women, without any political affiliation, is not an overnight phenomenon. It began some time back but because we in the media are so fixated on events, we often miss out on the process. This article by Neha Dixit explains this clearly.
It is not just the process that the media is failing to follow. In the case of the anti-CAA protests, much of mainstream media is either distorting the nature of the protests, by constantly highlighting incidents of violence, or simply ignoring them. Or delegitimising them, as this report illustrates.
This has led to considerable resentment in the people who are participating in the protests towards the media. It manifests itself in derision and comments about ‘godi’ media.
In Azad Maidan, a young woman stood steadfastly near the stage with a placard that read: “Arre yeh bikk gayi hai media” and below these words the symbols of Republic TV, Z News, ABP, Aaj Tak and Times of India. Although there have been some incidents of journalists being attacked, as reported on this website, I felt that there was more disdain than anger towards the media in general.
We must remember that both in 2012, after the Delhi gang-rape case, and in 2013, during the India Against Corruption campaigns in Delhi and other cities, news channels played an active role in amplifying the protests. In both cases, this worked. The government of the day had to pay heed. This time, the majority of news channels have not obliged. Yet, despite this, the protests continue and this government is unable to ignore them.
Perhaps, this is the beginning of the irrelevance of Big Media and of those in it who think they can ultimately control and even dictate the national narrative.