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Home > Sunday Mid Day News > The fear files Despite feeling heat of government action young activists say they wont bend yet

The fear files: Despite feeling heat of government action, young activists say they won't bend yet

Updated on: 21 February,2021 08:35 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Jane Borges |

Recent arrests of activists by police unsettle socially conscious young Indians at risk of being labelled anti-national. But, motivation to speak up for equal rights and ethical policy will outweigh the fear, they say

The fear files: Despite feeling heat of government action, young activists say they won't bend yet

Filmmaker Maitreya Sanghvi, 22, out on bail in a case for participating in a candlelight vigil against the violence in Delhi following the Anti-CAA agitation, at Dadar’s Veer Kotwal Garden. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Maitreya Sanghvi is a plucky 22-year-old from Mumbai. In the last two years, he has been noticed by the police thrice already. Out on bail, he believes that things could have been worse for him, had the Coronavirus pandemic not struck. 


The lockdown halted his activism. That also meant fewer run-ins with the law, which though, a relief, he sees as disheartening, because there’s so much he wants to do, instead of just “rant online”. “Sitting at home during the lockdown, while activists were being jailed, got me fuming. I felt helpless.”


A demonstration held outside the collector’s office in Thane on Thursday, in solidarity with arrested activists across the country. Pic/Sameer MarkandeA demonstration held outside the collector’s office in Thane on Thursday, in solidarity with arrested activists across the country. Pic/Sameer Markande


Sanghvi is on his own. He is neither affiliated to an NGO, nor a social movement, or political party. He believes in certain causes—the right ones—and he stands up for them. “This government is taking from the poor and giving to the rich. My blood boils, as everyone’s should.”  It’s why his feet have found their way organically to any event or gathering, where support is sought. 

His first serious run in with the law came in December 2019, when there were demonstrations across the country against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Violence at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia rocked the nation, and Sanghvi was detained—twice—while participating in vigils at Marine Drive. The one that struck a heavy blow, though, was in February last year, when he along with hundreds had gathered at the Veer Kotwal Garden in Dadar to show solidarity for the victims of the violence in Delhi. 

Activist-filmmaker Maitreya Sanghvi, 22, has been detained thrice by the police for participating in vigils across Mumbai. Out on bail, he says, “I am what the Prime Minister would call an ‘andolan jeevi’.” Pic/Suresh KarkeraActivist-filmmaker Maitreya Sanghvi, 22, has been detained thrice by the police for participating in vigils across Mumbai. Out on bail, he says, “I am what the Prime Minister would call an ‘andolan jeevi’.” Pic/Suresh Karkera

Around 50 protesters, including Sanghvi, were detained. A case was filed against him, and he was released soon after. But, a few days later, he got a court summons. “I was surprised, and definitely nervous. I had to be bailed out, and for what? A peaceful candlelight vigil. It still seems unreal. If I hadn’t been able to afford the bail, I probably would have been in jail through the pandemic,” he says. 

Like several other young Indians passionate about a cause, Sanghvi is feeling the heat of government action. On February 13, 22-year-old climate change activist Disha Ravi was arrested for allegedly sharing an online “toolkit” on how to support the mass protests by farmers across the country, which turned violent on January 26. Charged with sedition, Ravi, after five days in police custody and two days in jail, was denied bail on Saturday.

Labour activist (right) Nodeep Kaur, 23, with her sisters, and mother Swarnjeet. Kaur was arrested on January 12. The family has alleged that she was brutally assaulted by the police, which left her bleeding. Pic courtesy/Rajveer KaurLabour activist (right) Nodeep Kaur, 23, with her sisters, and mother Swarnjeet. Kaur was arrested on January 12. The family has alleged that she was brutally assaulted by the police, which left her bleeding. Pic courtesy/Rajveer Kaur

Has it put him off activism? “No,” he says unequivocally, “It is clear that this is being done to discourage dissent and keep us quiet.”    

The young filmmaker, who has just made his documentary debut with Gau Premi: For the Love of Cow, a film on cow vigilantes, says it was back in 2014 that his journey of social consciousness began. “I was still in school, and not old enough to vote, but I did fear for the secular fabric of this country. Even as I was thinking and debating this with friends and family, I saw that communalism was on the rise.” It bothers him that “no independent body is truly independent anymore”. Because he is privileged enough to miss a day of work to stand up for what he believes in, makes him responsible to speak up, he feels. “I am what the Prime Minister would call an ‘andolan jeevi’.”

Anmol Ohri, who leads the Jammu chapter of Climate Front, and only last week led an awareness march to save the Raika forest, says families are discouraging their kids from participating in more campaignsAnmol Ohri, who leads the Jammu chapter of Climate Front, and only last week led an awareness march to save the Raika forest, says families are discouraging their kids from participating in more campaigns

Addressing the Lok Sabha earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had denounced “andolan jeevis”—people who are obsessed with agitation—accusing them of maligning the farmers’ protest. Differentiating them from the andolan kaaris (agitators), he said such protesters need to be identified, as they are misleading the country, by spreading misinformation.   

It’s on a similar pretext that 23-year-old Nodeep Kaur, a Dalit woman and trade union activist, who joined the agitation against the new farm laws, was arrested on January 12 from Kundli, an industrial area in Haryana. Kaur had three FIRs against her, and was booked under a range of Indian Penal Code sections, including rioting while armed with a deadly weapon, causing hurt to public servant, assault and criminal force, unlawful assembly, trespass. While her family and friends claim that all charges are untrue, what’s irked them most is her being labelled an “extortionist”.