• Anandita Chandra

So you couldn’t attend any protests last year. Now what?

Increasingly these days, on social media, I stumble across memes which are an uncannily relatable. To elucidate, one meme features everyone's favourite Insta celeb - Baby (not him, but same species as) Yoda. Its abnormally large eyes are sad, its little shoulders drooping and, well, you get the picture — its that one. The headline or meme copy reads — “when you really want to protest but your boss asks you to come to worky work.”


Absolute. Meme. Gold

I saw this meme at a time when I was interning, clocking 8 hours everyday without a day off. I couldn’t attend a single protest. But the sheer fact that this meme existed and had a significant number of likes meant I wasn’t the only one.

Thousand, lakhs, millions of Indians took to the streets to show their dissent against an Act that effectively reduces minority communities to second-grade citizens, or nullifies their citizenship entirely. The online Twitter trench warfare has subsequently translated to outright offline violence towards the largely peaceful protestors.

I’ve always wanted to know what a protest felt like. Coming together to stand up for a cause, with an unparalleled level of solidarity. Courage at a time when no party, politician or constitutional power are there to back you up. Young, weary hands waving witty slogans with the national flag, as zealous and myriad tongues recite the Constitution of India in unison, resisting the current weapon of choice of whimsical law enforcers in the dead of the night.

Phew. Exhilarating.

Attending a protest also shows that the protestor is political aware, or culturally awake - Woke - as the term has come to be christened. Protestors are agents of change and have earned their social edge. People are drawn to them. The “people”, are essentially people like me, who couldn’t attend a protest but want in on the information, the emotion. We want to know, we don’t know what we want to know, but we strongly feel that listening in is the least we can do.

I found myself at one such congregation at work.

The narration started predictably - It was amazing guys! What unity! And then it took a unique turn once questions popped up. This one guy was constantly on his phone. Prodded further — he was watching Big Boss. And with that the narration ended.

But make no mistake, this is just one protestor, not all protestors are the same. It takes great personal strength despite knowing the ‘occupational hazard’ of being a protestor and attending such protests. The women of Shaheen Bagh, the student protestors of Jamia and AMU, the unyielding protests by artists and students in Assam and all over India, all have the respect and support of millions of Indians who couldn’t stand beside them physically.

But if you can’t make it to a protest, or somehow end up at one all alone with no clue what to do, it’s alright.

Social Media is a double edge sword — on one end several people are sharing, retweeting or reposting the posts of influencers and journalists, raising awareness; but on the other, serrated end, it is also an echo-chamber of rigorous rants which have no real meaning. All this has led us to believe that unless we too post politically garnished online content, or attend protests, we aren’t contributing towards the greater good.

This isn’t true.

I’ve always argued, politics starts at home. We become aware of political leaders and party ideologies through the dinner-table talks with our parents. As we grow up, we choose whether we agree with them or not, but the sparks are ignited at home. Full disclosure here — for the longest time, my father, like several old men in this country, supported the party (rather, the man) currently in power. But even he, after my relentless arguing over dinner finally ceded — what was the party thinking? Getting my dad to accept the absurdity of it all is something I consider a personal victory. Next, I moved on to my mom. She was a tougher nut to crack — owing to the constant stream of bile that flushes down her Facebook feed each morning. I spent several nights over the winter teaching her how to spot fake news and detect doctored videos. And I’ve converted her too. I’m no saint, but tomorrow when a politically charged conversation arises, I know my folks would be champions of truth. Isn't that important?

Politics starts at home. But it has also permeated our workspaces. Water cooler talks (or rather, coffee machine talks) often fringe about politics. Speak to your co-workers. It can be surprising how a young city kid can also be brainwashed into believing anything they're told. A kid who was interning with me was quite vocal through her ignorance — but that's not what the bill says. Or another fan favourite — they haven't read the bill. Here’s another one — they can come in “legally”. It takes an effort to convert a believer, but it needs to be done. Talk to your colleagues. Share legitimate news pieces, distill the news for them. It’s a long process (I tried) but it’s crucial.

Politics has also proliferated our friend groups. My father received a cryptic text on his school (yes school, not college) WhatsApp group. The message implied this — that if you support the act, we can no longer be friends. I can no longer be seen engaging with you. And I must leave the group.

It’s amazing. 40 years of friendship hinging on political inclination? Needless to say, the conversation stretched on (my father was glued to his phone the whole day), but I respect his friend. Getting your priorities right and setting the record straight is the undying need of the hour.

Tensions are running high. Arguments can spiral out of control and out of context. Here’s how to stay sane during a politically charged shitstorm:

  1. Here’s lesson from filmmaking — show, don’t tell. Don’t tell someone they’re wrong, show them how wrong they are. And ask questions, it’ll put them on edge.

  2. Don’t counsel a person, we’re in an age where everyone thinks they know too much, so just get them thinking, let them reflect.

  3. Share what you know with everyone.

  4. Don’t pretend to be “woke”. It weakens the movement. Instead when in doubt, simply ask.

  5. Finally, don’t be a bigot. A friend of mine recollects how happy a cab driver was when my friend didn’t cancel the ride after reading the cabbie's ‘name’. So don’t go about pasting slogans online in support of minority communities, if you’re the one who pulls such stunts in real life.

Today, everything is political — food, clothes, colours, everything — everything is viewed through tinted glasses. I’d even specify the colour of the tint, but you guessed it. We can’t escape politics, and we shouldn’t. So let it enter our homes, our friend circles, our workplaces and our educational institutions. For only then can we defend the country against forces that threaten the two most crucial definitions in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution - Secular and Democratic.

By Anandita Chandra

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