This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Learnings From Global Protest Politics Of #BlackLivesMatter, Anti-CAA And Farmers’ Protest

More from IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

There has been an exponential increase in protests around the world, and these have been hailed as the site for speaking the truth to those in power. These global phenomena have a unifying symbolic representation. The question that persists is that do all these protest sites create the same impact on power? Do all these protest sites become harbingers to saving an ideal of democracy? Are there differences in perception, symbolism, the role of actors involved, and the outcome? Should these movements be valorized and glamourized?

In India, farmers’ movements lay the ground for universal claims of food security and survival. They seep into the concerns of economic disparities and their implication on citizenship. On a similar note, the anti-CAA movement began with universal goals of saving democracy and the constitution. Yet, the collective consciousness of the public space could only capture this to be a specific demand of a religious minority. The same reduction of the farmers’ protests with communal overtones was not successful. Therefore, it begs questions about the normative claims of populism?

One of the world’s leading social theorists and sociologist, Prof Jeffery C Alexander of Yale University and Dr Hilal Ahmed from the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) engaged in a conversation with Dr. Ajay Gudavarthy from the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, at a panel discussion organized by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. Prof Harbans Mukhia, an eminent Indian historian, and Dr. Trevor Stack, Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, were the discussants in this event.

Learning by Comparing Global Protest Politics_ BLM, Anti-CAA, Farm Protest

Contextualizing Perceptions in History

The perception of political movements by the citizen audiences depends on three interlinking variables, namely, elite and mass members of the movement, the projection of the movement by mass media, and performances of the movement. The current movements have a unifying thread of performances that are geared towards gaining civil citizenship.

Prof Jeffery C Alexander contextualized the Black Lives Matter protest in the history of race struggle in American history. Where he points that the struggle for civil citizenship continues because “Race is a primary contradiction in American history”. The American constitution envisaged a democracy of equality, fraternity, and social justice entrenched in the oxymoronic character of white supremacy.

The history of race struggles has seen allies in the white citizens of America but does this participation ever envisage the end of the race? Abolitionists spoke about the indignity of black enslavement; the symbolic movement was towards the abolition of slavery and not of racism.

Prof Jeffery C Alexander further provided insights into the Civil Rights Movement which was led by Martin Luther King with a deep emphasis on equality and rights. However, he pointed out that the performance by the elite and mass members in the movement was deeply Christian, and this made the demand exclusive to another intersection of the populace.

Situating the Black Lives Matter movement in history would make the observer uncomfortable because the performativity of the movement was to paint very specific imagery. The symbolic performance situated itself in painting people who had died due to police brutality as martyrs fighting for the principles of the civil rights movement- equality and rights.

Black Lives Matter protesters congregate on Boston Common. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The movement very specifically captured the voice of trauma of black men from the working class who were scuffled in the public space regularly, the black lives became the voice of this specific location. So, the question that lingers is whether all movements begin with general universal claims having a very specific worldview within them?

Comparing Movements

Dr. Hilal Ahmed located that comparing movements needs a deep understanding of the same beyond superficial news coverage. The aim of comparison should be to delve deep into questions of context, performances, the model of collective political action, and most importantly a learning ground. These locations in terms of space and time hold within them the capacity to reimagine or “think the unthinkable”. Movements today hold dual questions: that of survival and that piques interest in the form of reimagining the plural and the collective.

Using the above-mentioned variables Dr. Hilal Ahmed compared the anti-CAA movement and the farmers’ movement. He eloquently pointed out that these movements were protective and defensive and they encapsulated within them ‘structural existentialism’. These sites were not challengers but defenders. Both the movements had common features: –

  • There was an emphasis on non-party politics. They collectively rejected competitive electoral politics to be the site of the contesting issues. They chose to present their questions in a different realm of politics.
  • The movements used a new form of performative symbolism. This performative symbolism was also a world view that had been set by the hegemonic state. The interaction was only with symbols that were already controlled by state structures like the Tricolour, Gandhi, and Ambedkar.
  • Traditional political leadership was rejected. The traditional houses of power did not settle with the performative symbolism of the two movements. A stark contrast was the intersectionality of the elite leadership in the protest site though the specificity remained, Chandrashekhar was the leader of the anti-CAA movement and Rakesh Takait is leading the farmers’ movement.
  • The last feature is the response from the public sphere. There is a fresh trend of protests against protests, and interestingly, these are painted by the media as honest, rational concerns which have driven the middle class to the streets.

Where Did The Protests Miss?

The anti-CAA protests started from the universal question of saving constitutionalism and democracy and yet, they failed to engage with Hindutva constitutionalism, and this successfully reduced the possibility of thinking of an alternative as the public imagination was captured by the refashioning of a Hindu constitution. This refashioned constitution set itself around the narrative to that of taxpayers to capture the middle-class imaginary, and thereafter successfully refashioned the taking of capital by the state as a claim against ‘the other’.

The CAA began with the goal of saving Indian democracy but had to face the dangers of Hindutva constitutionalism.

Dr. Hilal Ahmed pointed out that there is a threat to collective thinking, and it is here that a lesson can be learned from Gandhian populism. Gandhi never celebrated the idea of a collective people. He feared that this celebration would result in valorization, which would impede any form of self-reflexivity or question of social morality.

The farmers’ protests on the other hand fail to capture the public imagination because they have failed in creating any public opinion. They continue to speak of victimhood and the counter-narrative of playing into this victimhood and painting them as non-rational actors have been successful. It is here again that a page can be picked from Gandhian populism in the context of communal rioting. He never stopped using the terms Hindu-Muslim, it was through his speech that he was successfully locating an empirical site of concern for what most people saw as the abstract challenge of communalism.

Lessons To Be Learned

Prof Jeffery C Alexander concluded on the note that a “theoretical framework asserts that symbolic representation is essential to sustain political democracy”. It is this performance and symbolism that can result in solidarity being generated for tackling the empirical questions.

Religion is a stronger base for solidarity than race and this is why the ‘othering’ of race is more collectively seen as a concern and not the ‘othering’ of religion. This just results in one very unsettling but widely accepted narrative that has been built by reimagining Mughal history, where the “Muslims can never be victims in India.”

Giving his assent to this reading of the social democracy of India, Dr. Hilal Ahmed pointed to the electoral and non-electoral politics of Hindu victimhood, and that this idea has become the social imaginary of contemporary India.

Prof Harbans Mukhia pointed that the social imaginary had a competition towards who was the greater victim to access better resource redistribution- the resource in question being civil citizenship. Using the taxonomy of Dr. Trevor Stack, the understanding of heterogeneity must be such that one locates the complexities within a collective. The phenomenon of collectivity holds within it both tensions and complementarity and provided a caveat that differences should not turn into hostilities.

Acknowledgment: Sakshi Sharda, MPhil student at Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University and a Research Intern at IMPRI.

Dr. Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

You must be to comment.

More from IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Similar Posts

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By Ishika Das

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below