You study at a university that has been in the news for its stand on a contentious ‘Citizenship Bill’. You are a part of a group—your class WhatsApp group—where the students are active in planning, sharing and executing all forms of protests to fan their opposition to this bill.
It doesn’t matter how apolitical you are, and you’d feel embarrassed for not doing anything; your soul will question you and render you a morally-corrupt being. You will be expected to stand by your classmates for this cause and not do so half-heartedly.
This is a very confounding state: a perilous state—as it may give others a chance to judge you for being a selfish person; someone who lacks compassion for his people, and this may not look well for you in future.
I was in this state for a while. I, a masters student (Mass Communication) from Jamia Millia Islamia, was brooding about all this. My brooding didn’t mean I was inconsiderate towards the current state of the country, especially what was done to my university and its students. The brooding was about my participation.
I still remember December 13th. I had an exam that day—not so tough—but still, I had to write a lot. I stayed in the canteen for over an hour discussing all the issues under the universe over our ‘Chai’ and ‘Sutta’. There were students in the lawn by the garden, sitting in groups, chatting as usual. Then a friend of mine came to me and apprised me of the situation outside the campus.
“We’re gonna protest today. This government has gone insane; we had already mobilized hostelers yesterday, and today, we’re gonna take a march out,” he said. I was not entirely unaware of the protests that were happening before the 13th. We, as the class, were getting usual updates about the small protests being conducted on the campus, here and there; but this was going to be the first central protest by the University students, so some students were doing a lot of preparations for its success.
It was close to 3 p.m. when I decided to take leave as I had no intention to stay at the campus and be a part of the protest. This very idea ‘of not being politically active enough’ has been a hallmark of my student life, and strangely, I had no moral qualms about with it.
There are lot of reasons I found for me; one is obviously the state of life that I have been living along with my family, which to say the least, is not by any standards a ‘good life’. My life is a juggernaut of problems, and the financial issue is the biggest one. My family is a powerless entity, which is at the brink of going bankrupt, and their only hope to prosperity is me. If I get entangled in something untoward, the family will shatter.
So my conscience is programmed to stay away from all sorts of elements that may make me fall, for bad. And, that’s why I left early that day, and luckily so, when I stepped out of the campus, the sloganeering had just started, and the march was gathering momentum. I started walking from Gate no. 13 of the campus passing by Gate No. 7, where Jamia Teachers’ Association had called-in a protest and was addressing the gathered crowd. They all seemed determined, energetic, and in a mood to raise a big cry against the bill.
When I neared the Sukhdev Vihar Metro station, there laid a siege by the Delhi police: barricaded roads, tens and hundreds of cops on the other side of it, batons in their hands, police vehicles beelined on both sides of the road, with more backup progressing to the point. It was scary frankly, and I didn’t presume that students would get into a scuffle with the cops by any chance.
But, cut to half an hour later, I see images of students being thrashed by the cops while trying to upturn the barricades. They were trying to advance after the barricaded point, but cops didn’t let them, and in the tussle, they used their power excessively, beating students mercilessly and chasing them all at the end of the Gate no. 13. Obviously, it angered the students.
And for the next 3-4 days, the worst kind of treatment was meted out to the students at the hands of the police. While all of this was happening, my class Whatsapp group was pulsating with all forms of updates: the protest photographs, the actions of the police on the campus, the nightmarish experience of hostelers, all creating an environment of fear in our minds as students of this University, which was once hailed by Gandhi for its teachings.
My classmates were sharing everything from photos to their outrage over cops’ actions. Whatsapp updates, forwards, Instagram Stories, Twitter storms became the tools to mobilize the support and let me tell you, they all did it deftly. While individually, they were doing everything in their control to make their fight successful, I, for once, was observing all of that silently, and I know this silence was annoying people.
But the misery of my life was keeping me quiet, and I didn’t dare to say a word for my mates. This hurt me a lot. While they were all organizing protests all over the campus and inviting prominent civil society members for the support, I somehow chose to rest at home and enjoy the winters.
A friend of mine called me and questioned my silence, and I tried to beat around the bush, never coming to the point. The years of silence against social issues were given to me by my parents, who always thought that idle people do protests for idle reasons, and we, as sane people, should not get entangled in it.
The lower-middle-class mindset, especially of a family whose financial weakness has been driving it crazy day-by-day, would do anything to retain its world and it loves the status-quo for its prosperity. I also became a believer in this idea.
But what made me come out, I wonder, was it the embarrassment that I felt about my silence? Was it this idea that if the society around me is filled with fear and uncertainty, how can I prosper? I don’t know what it was, but it all felt like a jolt—a jolt from my conscience—telling me to stop looking at those messages and go our to support my mates on the ground. And I went. I went and supported my center in the protest and did everything in my control to fight for justice to those affected.
And, believe me, this feels great, and I feel liberated, for good. Long Live, Jamia!