Some of us who raise our voices against atrocities, often reach a stage when we find it getting lacklustre and boring.
For some, the level of boredom and helpless attitude is proportional to media interest. Not because people are media crazy, but because it is boring to be repeating the same thing again and again, in the same way, for years together for protesters and the media thrives on newness and sensationalism.
While there are many who still say the same thing again and again till their point is heard – and I salute their determination and resolve for change – for many others, the point to remain relevant and to create a media storm becomes important to win the battle.
Just yesterday, Aditya Narayan had a tussle with an Indigo airlines employee who reportedly questioned him on carrying excess luggage. Aditya Narayan threatened to remove the underwear of the staff. In his melodious voice, he said, “Teri chaddi nahin uttari naa, toh mera naam bhi Aditya Narayan nahin (If I don’t get your underwear removed, my name is not Aditya Narayan).”
I was furious. I posted a picture of me (fully clothed) holding my underwear on Facebook. I called it the #Chaddi protest. I did nothing to promote it per se. I was just happy that my creative juices were satiated as much as my want to register a protest.
— harish iyer (@hiyer) October 2, 2017
This idea is not mine though. Underwears were first used as a means of protest by the Pink Chaddi campaign that urged people to send pink chaddis (underwear) to Sri Ram Sene who violently assaulted pub-going women.
The blog of the Pink Chaddi campaign was called, “The consortium of pub-going, loose and forward women.” They didn’t express disgust over being called pub-going or having a loose character or forward-looking women. They instead owned that space, which ended up being a tight slap on the face of the attackers.
I’m sure many of you have come across the term ‘protest fatigue’. Some of you might have even experienced it. The problem is that we never run out of things to protest, especially if we are to maintain a sense of balance and protest atrocities committed against people belonging to all interest groups. So what can we do to keep our democracy vibrant by raising voices of dissent whenever we come across injustice?
Well, creative expression of dissent can go a long way in strengthening a movement. So if lighting candles, chanting slogans and marching on streets are not your thing, perhaps you can take a leaf out of American footballer Colin Kaepernick’s book and ‘take a knee’.
Basically, ‘take a knee’ is when an American football (what we call rugby) player bends one knee to stop a game after they have secured a narrow lead over the other team in order to prevent the other side from scoring more and claiming victory. ‘Taking a knee’ effectively ends the game.
In 2016, Kaepernick was disturbed by the killing of black people by policemen and wanted to register his protest. At first, he kept sitting on the bench during the national anthem. This was considered an insult to the national anthem as people are expected to stand when it is being played.
A few weeks later he decided upon a novel way to register his protest and instead of sitting, he decided to ‘take a knee’.
This form of protest saw a resurgence recently when NFL team Dallas Cowboys decided to take the knee and then stood together locking arms to protest against President Trump’s remarks about firing anyone who dishonours the national anthem.
Inspired by the NFL players, several music, television and movie stars have also joined the campaign. Players from other NFL teams have also followed suit, often eliciting loud boos and sharp criticism from fans.
It is important to note that ‘taking a knee’ is different from ‘bending the knee’. The latter was the way to surrender or swear allegiance to a king in medieval Europe. In India also, the idiom “ghutne tek dena” means surrender.
But the ‘take a knee’ campaign is the exact opposite of that. It is an expression of dissent, an act of defiance and a way to stand up to bullies and bigots. I wonder if something similar would be successful in India though.
It appears difficult, given how a wheelchair-bound man was thrashed for not standing up when the national anthem played in a movie theatre in Goa last year. Something that led to this verdict by the honourable Supreme Court that exempted disabled persons from standing up for the national anthem.
To me, it just seemed like common sense and empathy for people who are disabled. The fact that such a thing needs to be prescribed by the Supreme Court itself is a matter of great shame for us. Perhaps empathy is not that common.
I wonder if I would attract the wrath of the Akhil Bharatiya Troll Sena if I were to upload a picture of me taking a knee to protest against homophobia, misogyny and Islamophobia, given how LGBT people are considered enemies of sanskaar. Women students were mercilessly beaten with lathis for demanding their right to safety at BHU last week. And don’t get me started on mob lynching.
I wonder if it would just be reduced to a symbolic gesture by over-enthusiastic keyboard warriors – a feeble no in the face of injustice – or would it become a countrywide movement standing up for human rights by kneeling down in protest?
Perhaps we have lessons to take from America in creative ways to register a protest. The players there did face the wrath. People continue to call them ‘anti-national’. However, that was the whole point – to be seen and heard in a world where the message dies before it reaches the recipient because of overcrowding of timelines and minds.
I love creative protests. But in times where the knees are too stiff to bend, there is always a special blend of poetry.
Here’s Trevor Noah’s lyrical protest against the curbing of the right to protest.of the right to protest.
“It’s wrong to do it in the street
It’s wrong to do it in the tweets,
You cannot do it in the field,
You cannot do it if you kneeled,
You cannot do it if you are rich,
You ungrateful son of a bitch,
Because there’s one thing that’s a fact,
You cannot protest if you are black”