Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When is it enough?

I am not an activist. I am as lazy as they come. I like the finer things in life more than I like roughing it. I keep searching for a purpose in life and want to be part of something bigger, but as I said, I am too lazy. I have a lot of opinions...on things I know a little about and even on things I don’t know anything about. I will probably leave two people to fight things out between them, than interfere. I am not an activist. But I wore a black band for the first time in my life for two days—protesting the arrest/detainment of Anna Hazare. The black band was to protest the curbing of one’s right to protest, and not in support of Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill.

On a recent Saturday, a combination of Anna Hazare recounting the freedom struggle on one of the reality music shows in the morning, followed by going for ‘Rise of the Apes’ in the afternoon left me pensive (and yes, I am aware of the unlikely combo). So…during a particularly unrealistic sequence when the apes were wreaking havoc on London while they fight for their freedom, my mind wandered back to Anna Hazare, his anecdotes from the freedom movement, the current state of governance, the rampant corruption, the general chaos in terms of the future, and I thought—when will it be enough?

Taking a stand
What will it take for me and all those like me—who are still living their regular lives with the India Against Corruption banter in the background—to get out of comfort of our daily routine and take a stand? And by taking a stand, I don’t mean shouting “Anna tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain (Anna, continue your struggle. We’re with you)”. I mean taking an ACTIVE stand like those who are working and fasting with Anna Hazare. Now, to be honest, I am occasionally a sceptic and a cynic. Do I believe that everyone’s got an altruistic motive? No. Is everyone in the campaign clean? No. But I do think, like many others, that the sentiment that has been created by the protest is an immensely healthy change from our previous “chalta hai (everything goes)” attitude.

However, taking a stand doesn’t mean wearing Tricolour bandanas and wristbands and taking flags while you ride down the road at dangerous speeds, and blatantly flouting traffic rules. That’s just an insult to the concept of taking a stand.

In the two weeks since that Saturday, and a week since this “movement” started, I have been truly moved to take a stand once—when Anna and his supporters were “detained”. I didn’t do much. I’m not moved to great shows of protest easily, so I did what I still think is an elegant (and admittedly convenient) way to show my protest. I wore a black band on my arm from the time the arrests happened till the time the confirmation came that Anna will be leaving Tihar Jail. Then, to satisfy my curiosity and check out the Ramlila Maidan energy that I’ve been hearing so much about, I headed out there on Monday—Day 7 of Anna Hazare’s fast. (Check out the slide show if you’re interested in the images and my reactions to what I saw there, or click here.)

Ground check
To be honest, I wasn’t moved by any feeling of nationalism because of being there. But the marked change in the way people responded to each other did move me indeed. Considering the huge crowd, all the jostling, there wasn’t a single cross word, or impatient sigh, unintentional elbowing was follow
ed by instant apology from both parties, elders were treated with utmost respect, people going out for a sip of water would return with several water packets for everyone (without being asked to!). THAT was what I loved. (What I didn’t love was the absolute filth outside the Maidan.)

What matters?
This post isn’t about discussing the merits or demerits of the Lokpal or Jan Lokpal bills, but about what moves us to react and how we react. Honestly, I think the movement wouldn’t have picked up this much momentum so soon had the government (or Delhi Police, if you’re buying the official story) not arrested Anna Hazare and Co. That’s where it hit people the hardest—when their right to protest/expression/dissent was under duress. They threatened to take away our voice and THAT was unacceptable. Plus, the Anna Hazare camp has appealed to reason rather than sentiment, which would explain the mass participation by the middle class and above.

Over the past week, the media has made it impossible to move past Anna Hazare. Is that a good thing? Maybe not. There are other things that are happening too, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. This is an important movement and should be given its due. And considering our propensity to let the media guide our attention, at least there is no way our focus can waver at the moment.

Anna Hazare is the face of the movement, and not the movement itself. People are not on streets because of Anna Hazare. They are there because the issue he has raised has tapped into a groundswell of discontent that already existed among Indians irrespective of caste, creed, economic background…political and bureaucratic background might have been an exception though. As long as people realize that and remember it even after this frenzy of a movement is over, all this would have been worthwhile. The “Anna team” has to realize that blackmailing the government on the back of Anna Hazare’s failing health and the impending violence that might happen if something happens to him is not the right way. There HAS to be compromise on both fronts.

When it matters to me
But what of those o
f us who haven’t taken up the cause actively yet? I will and can speak only for myself. I don’t know. I know had Anna Hazare not been released, I would have been moved to take a more active stand than just wearing a black band. That’s because the government’s action threatened to affect ME. So basically, that’s what it boils down to… When it affects me. That’s when it will be enough.

That's probably why Irom Sharmila's protest against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act isn't as popular as this one. Or Medha Patkar's (and don't roll your eyes at this) Narmada Bachao Andolan hasn't garnered consistent fervour of this kind. They are just not enough for me (or us?) to not care about my job and walk down Rajpath with a candle, shout out slogans, bug every official I can till my voice is heard. I am yet to reach my breaking point, which, in my opinion, is not exactly a good thing. I admire those who have gone out of their way to work for a cause bigger than their personal circles. It’s something I aspire to do, but there is time yet, I suppose.

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