A few months to go and this decade will be over, and in India, it would end on a sad note. The decade began with protests and huge allegations of multi-million corruption scandals that rocked the nation—only for the people to take to the streets in 2011. They would take to the streets once again, just a year later, in the cold winters of Delhi in 2012 to protest against the gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student.
A few years later, people would again take to the streets, but this time, against a new government and against a law which would result in complete dismay and unbecoming of a democracy—a law that would sow the seeds of an authoritarian state in the making in the name of Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.
Later in 2020, people would yet again take to the streets over the rape of a Dalit girl in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras village—just three hours away from the National Capital. The protests between 2012–2019 were looked down upon, protesting students across the nation were beaten up, locked down, called terrorists and whatnot. People demanding jobs, protesting farmers were completely ignored too. And this seems to have become the new normal.
So, what has changed? We are the same people—the same Indians we were in 2011, a few have died, and many new have been born. These are the same parties contesting elections. Then why are we in this pathetic situation now?
The most striking difference between the protests of 2011–12 and 2019–20 would be the way the governments dealt with the citizens. It would be the tag of anti-national put on protestors and the forceful police action on peaceful protestors that makes the difference between then and now. This was preceded by mass polarisation of the public based on religious, ideological and political lines over the years by the ruling political party from 2014–2020.
Protests back then (2011–2013) didn’t involve an instigation of riots and slogans by members of a ruling political party saying “Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro…”. What we have been witnessing is unbecoming of a great nation.
In 2011-12, when you protested and wished to seek the Prime Minister’s resignation, you weren’t trolled; you weren’t shamed and attacked on social media. Words like sickular, libtard, khangressi, bhakt, etc., were not used. The ruling government never used words like anti-national and urban Naxal. What we thought was a revolution at the beginning of the decade came to be the worst steep in public discourse, which is shameful, to say the least, and downright undemocratic. A once-booming economy is dying now as people struggle to access basic healthcare, among other things.
Today, the head of the ruling party’s IT cell has the guts to come out and challenge the credibility of the rape victim’s parents. He would cite the delay in the registering of FIR. He would happily ignore that to get an FIR registered for rape in India, especially for a Dalit family, is a huge deal and if the perpetrators are upper castes, the Police will kick you out! This is the reality of the society we live in.
And if you live in Uttar Pradesh, every political party has screwed you and has made you a part of their loyal vote bank through casteist and communal politics. So next time an incident of rape happens, maybe Mr Social Media Head would like to ensure personally that the FIR is registered the moment the victim says to the police that she was raped, instead of finding proof that there was a delay by the police in registering the FIR and trying to give it a favorable spin, belittling the victim(s)?
Instead, Mr Social Media Head loves to talk about the suicide case of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, and the drugs and Bollywood. He uses his army of trolls to suppress dissent to anything and everything. This obsession led to a media circus we’d never seen before. News anchors (read not journalists) kept talking about this to divert public attention. Even after the victim of Hathras died, a certain anchor kept talking about the SSR case until it seemed that his TRPs were at risk.
How hard is it to understand that a man can go into depression and die by suicide, really? How hard is it to understand that we, in India, have never taken mental health seriously? Similarly, how hard is it to imagine that upper caste men can rape a Dalit girl? Maybe just like it’s hard to believe that a man could die by suicide owing to mental health issues, it is hard to accept that an upper caste man can commit a heinous act of rape, right? So to protect that image of upper caste men and to refrain from talking about mental health, you lie. You lie, you lie, and you lie. And what is the cost of those lies? Death.
Would you dare to protest against the financial and moral corruption of the government? The answer would be yes, but maybe we need to channelise the spirit of protests that kickstarted this decade. Can you expect the media to ask serious questions to the Prime Minister in a press conference?
Can you expect the Prime Minister to accept more transparency in the government and repeal the amendment to the RTI? Can the government be transparent about election funding and stop the use of electoral bonds? And if I brush aside the fact that it is a contempt of court, can the supreme court at least hold a hearing of the case of the electoral bonds?
Can the opposition become more democratic internally and reconnect with the public? Can the media start showing unbiased, real news instead of news forwarded via WhatsApp? Can news anchors become journalists again? Can we, the public, start behaving like adults and improve the decency of the language used in debates? Can they return to dialogue instead of monologues?
Can our issues move on from the failures of the past generations, the issues of the ’90s to the issues of today and the victims of today? Can the Prime Minister stop giving a monologue-cum-lecture every Sunday and start taking real questions at universities and across the nation?