My cab was stuck in an excruciating traffic jam, quite typical of Bangalore, when I saw them - emerging as a collective, equipped with banners, microphones and raging energy. I grabbed my poster, hurled cash at the cab driver and jumped out before he could return my change. They stood and chanted and listened and waited. In a matter of 30 minutes, the entire 250 metres leading up to the Townhall was packed.
The protest felt like something inherently beautiful articulating itself, even if its contours weren't defined just yet. It was more than the 200 people arrested earlier that morning at the same protest, beyond the swarm of new bodies gathering in the same place of arrest, all over again, and beyond the short bursts of language picked up into loud chants. The protest was the tearful beauty of hum leke rahenge, aazadi !, and also the hour and a half it took most of us to get there. It was in the uncertainty of where we were headed, the Instagram story we uploaded and our fear of being arrested: the protest began everywhere. It was my friend struggling to spot me even though we were in the same crowd. It was men making sure other men weren't crowding upon the women, making sure the sanctity of our space wasn't violated, not even accidentally. With every fervent call and response, the protest kept becoming.
Eventually the police arrived, and the first line of protesters adorned the Indian national flag in defense, as if to say: this protest is not anti-national. My section of the crowd couldn't hear the exchange between them and the protesters, so we just waited, half expecting it to get violent, half hoping it wouldn't. I did not imagine marches being conducted with the constant uncertainty of direction and location. When I looked around I saw an endless crowd of bodies and realized there were multiple sections just like mine- wondering if they were in the right place, looking for a central axis, and waiting to be told what to do. When the police thronged into the crowd of protesters, you could feel the vapid multiplication of molecules; fear vibrated and resonated between strangers. Against the police, we were a collective.
What does collective angst mean? For some, it means delving into political dissent without being branded anti-national. For others, it means a better economy and a functional social system. Today it meant opposing a blatant incursion on the secular fabric of India. A week before the protests started, the Citizenship Amendment Bill became an enforceable law. Read with the National Register of Citizens it meant that only Muslims would have to prove their citizenship and ancestry through ambiguous documents; it meant 200 million citizens being potentially stripped of their nationality un-democratically. I have to keep my stomach from turning at the seeming neutrality in the legal prose; resist the fear of all the blood that may come between enactment and implementation; resist the idea that this- blatant hatred of minorities, detention centres, rapid internet shut-offs & police brutality - this could all be normal one day.
The aftermath of the act led to nationwide protests, activists being detained, professors being assaulted and students being shot at. Within a week, my Instagram blew up with venues and timings for city-wise protests. The days preceding and following the march were a waking nightmare of police brutality. Section 144 was declared just as peaceful protests were getting planned, and yet, hundreds gathered to defy an active governmental order to not do precisely that, not because we weren't scared of repercussions but because we were, we were so scared of dissent, that the presence of this collective fear had now turned into anger.
At the Townhall, empty police buses stationed around us and barricades were readied as the cops attentively looked on to a peaceful crowd seating themselves on the road. The night before, a group of law students were detained for holding candlelight protests against the imposition of Section 144. What was an obstacle deliberately placed to keep us from protesting had now become a part of the protest.
Unfortunately, we couldn't fit all of it in the newsletter. It is continued further up on our blog.
Please click here to read all of it.