Picking the wrong battles

Updated: Dec 28, 2019, 07:20 IST | Lindsay Pereira | New Delhi

Here's a question a lot of us ought to ask ourselves, but don't: since when did students become our enemies?

The protests at August Kranti Marg, and at colleges and universities across India and abroad, ought to remind us all that dissent is our right. File pic
The protests at August Kranti Marg, and at colleges and universities across India and abroad, ought to remind us all that dissent is our right. File pic

Lindsay PereiraI tend to stay away from commenting on anything political, not because I don't have political views, but because this was a column meant to focus on happenings in the city of Bombay alone. That was my mandate when I began, and it continues to be the focus. A worrying number of my colleagues now tend to avoid political issues because they want to hold on to their jobs. This time though, I was compelled to break with tradition because of what happened a little over a week ago.

If you weren't at August Kranti Marg (and I wasn't), you missed what I did — a gathering of people across all walks of life, coming together because they were compelled to. I don't know why it happened because, until it did, I had assumed these kinds of things belonged only in the school textbooks placed before me during classes on history. Someone forwarded me videos though, and a hundred photographs of people far younger than I, holding up placards against something that went against their collective conscience. 'Jab Hindu-Muslim Raazi,' read one, 'Toh Kya Karega Nazi'. It made me weep.

There have been a million things said about a law that discriminates against human beings on the basis of their religious beliefs; a law that goes against the fundamental rights we were promised by our Constitution, and one that decides who is or isn't worthy of justice based on the Gods and Goddesses they put their faith in. To say that the law didn't anger me would be a lie, because every week of the government that India elected in 2014 has brought forth a fresh horror that has steadily made us a more depraved nation.

For the first time in a long time though, I found myself in awe as well, because of those men and women who had a lot more courage than I did, and chose to make their voices heard without fear. It's easy for a columnist to rage against the dying of the light while sitting before a laptop, but quite another thing to take to the streets and hold up a placard accusing the Prime Minister of bigotry.

Students have slowly been turned into enemies by a government that has shown no respect for learning. Universities have been broken into, libraries ransacked, unarmed youth assaulted while television cameras roll. What hurt was not the visuals themselves, as much as the justification offered for those unwarranted and illegal beatings. Millions of us watched silently and allowed authorities to get away with this, instead of playing the role of protectors and holding the powers that be accountable. It took young people to remind us of what it means to be patriots.

History is rife with examples of what happens when a government starts to demonise the people it is elected to govern. What started with the shutting down of one state has moved across the country, with universities being targeted and students now accused of being anti-national simply for daring to question their ministers. Since when did disagreeing with someone become tantamount to treason anyway?

The protests at August Kranti Marg, and at colleges and universities across India and abroad, ought to remind us all that dissent is our right. We can and should hold chauvinistic governments to account because that is what it means to care for what is sacred. Standing up for the National Anthem before the start of a movie means nothing if we sit down when it matters most.

It has been years since I considered myself a student, which is probably why I forgot what it meant to be young. There was a promise that every day held back then, when our stories were yet to be written, and we assumed the world — or, at the very least, our country — would give us an opportunity to do something worthwhile with our lives. I forgot what it meant to be righteous because that righteousness is so easily beaten out of us soon after we enter the corporate rat race.

The students protesting on our streets are a reminder that we were once young and had something we believed was bigger than ourselves. If they are the enemy, we have managed to turn our biggest assets into a liability of our own making. Last week, those protesters on the street made me feel young again. They made me feel like fighting for my country. For that alone, I will be eternally in their debt.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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