Fire in the Eye
Something had split apart, something had broken, hearts were broken and eyes were glazed. Fingers became fists. Fists were clenched
Amit Sengupta Delhi
Society is a Carnivorous Flower…
Graffiti, May 1968, students’ movement, Sorbonne, France
Above all, always feel strongly against any injustice committed against anyone in any part
of the world. This is a revolutionary’s most beautiful quality.
Che Guevara, in one of his last letters to his children, from Bolivia
Why only a revolutionary, I would say. This is a human being’s most beautiful quality. The protracted, relentless, restless fight against injustice. The infinite quest for justice. This beautiful quality became incandescent not only on the angry and angst-ridden streets of Delhi, where passionate and compassionate young women and men reclaimed their nights and days, their bodies, minds and souls, challenging the might of the Indian State in the VIP heart of Delhi. All over India, across small towns and big cities, village bylanes and metrocentric twilight zones, thousands of young and old, girls, boys, women and men, mothers, grandmothers, eyes moist with saline water, voices choked with grief and tired after relentless slogans, reclaimed public spaces, braved the cold nights, shared the warmth and strength of solidarity, the courage of holding hands and holding placards and banners, walking side by side, writing slogans on paper and posters, singing songs, lighting candles and bonfires, sharing flowers in the fog, standing in silent protest and prayer and silent mourning, speaking, shouting, screaming, singing, writing poetry on the streets, playing the guitar, thinking out loud the feminism of freedom, dignity and resistance.
Even in obscure Ballia in eastern UP, the original family home of the brave girl who fought, resisted, suffered so much pain, and finally left this world, humble schoolgirls of a humble school, in school uniforms, walked on the streets with placards. They looked stunned, angry and sad. From Goa to Nahan in Himachal Pradesh to Chennai and small towns of Bengal and villages in Bihar, from Bengaluru and Ranchi to the backwaters of Kerala and the hills of Uttarakhand, in the remotest zones of invisible India, people came out in thousands, many of them school and college girls, holding placards and posters, lighting candles. When others did not join, two young boys in Udaipur marched on their own with placards and stood in a public square. Soon, others joined them. The boys said, next, they will stand in the marketplace. Silent. In protest.
The entire nation fought, steadfast, scattered and united in emotion and action: Justice for her, they said. A chord has been struck somewhere in the intangible political unconscious of this huge and fragmented nation, stalked by violent machismo of men, vast swathes of unbearable hunger, poverty and stark inequality; something had snapped, so many strings had broken.
Even in obscure Ballia in eastern UP, humble schoolgirls of a humble school walked on the streets with placards
This sudden outburst of spontaneous resistance and protest erupted and bloomed like thousands of schools of thought and many hundred flowers. Something had split apart, something had broken, hearts were broken and eyes were glazed. Fingers became fists. Fists were clenched.
A new political consciousness of a new India has moved into multiple trajectories. A new eclectic aesthetic of resistance has found many streams of consciousness. This was an untamed river, clean, pristine, authentic and young, its waters flowing in all directions, rousing and cleaning at the same time, the rotten soul of this Indian democracy. This is a democracy where injustice has become a priori, vast economic disparity a daily norm of the ruling class and corporates, inequality and poverty, hunger and malnourishment, a fact of daily invisibility and epical suffering; and rape and violence against women a masculine barbarism celebrated across the landscape, often, with not an iota of justice.
Remember Soni Sori. Remember Manorama of Manipur. Remember the mothers of Manipur who stripped naked, protesting against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the rape and murder of Manorama. Remember the tribal girl, stripped and assaulted in full public view in Guwahati. Remember Bilquees Bano and all the other women of Gujarat, who were raped, tortured, gangraped, chopped into pieces, often thrown alive into a fire as a public spectacle by the fascist barbarians of Narendra Modi. So, will we allow the “successful experiment” of Gujarat to be repeated all over India?
Remember the nun of Kandhamal raped by marauders, even as the VHP ran amok. Remember the Sikh women of November 1984, who saw it all with their eyes. Remember the tribal women of Chhattisgarh raped and murdered by Raman Singh’s forces and Salwa Judum. Remember the girls of Shopian in Kashmir, raped and murdered. Remember all the invisible rapes and killings in this wasteland of India where justice is forever delayed and eternally denied. Remember. And light a candle. And spread the word. And resolve to fight against all kinds of injustice against anyone, here, there, everywhere. Remember. Clench your fist. Shout a slogan. Sing a song. Join the march. Break the barricade.
This was a simmering wound waiting to erupt, bloodless and universal, in a kaleidoscope of young rainbow coalitions, outside fixated or dogmatic ideologies, sectarian frameworks or permanent paradigms, beyond the opportunism of political outfits, without a defined leadership or high command, its core and central substance and essence led by young women and men, girls and boys, with fire in their beautiful eyes. This was both two steps forward, and a great leap of imagination, flying on the wings of raw, youthful energy.
When they can give a State funeral with a 21-gun salute to Bal Thackeray, why did they not allow ordinary Indian citizens to join her funeral? What are they afraid of – young girls and boys with candles?
That some identified Rightwingers, opportunists obsessed with TV grandstanding and lumpen tried to hijack the movement at India Gate and indulged in mindless violence was as predictable as the State’s brutal crackdown on the protesters. The beating up of non-violent protesters, male cops blinded by arrogance hitting girls with lathis, spraying water cannons in this freezing cold, blinding the students with tear gas: these were all inevitable signs of a repressive State apparatus. Even the prime minister’s robotic, short, wooden, emotionless speech lacked all conviction, sensitivity and feeling. Theek hain, he said. The nation responded in one voice: No, theek nahin hain! This shallow economist only gets excited when it comes to subsidising corporates, patronising market fundamentalism, and backing FDI.
However, the violent lumpen and opportunist politicians were sidelined; waves and waves of protesters came back, regrouped, held hands in solidarity, reclaimed public spaces. Feminist groups, women’s groups, students and teachers of JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia and Delhi University, Left progressive groups, old students, new students, parents and their little children, ordinary folks, Indian citizens – they all regrouped at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, disciplined and resolute, even as India Gate was curfewed with huge barricades of armed cops defending the citadel of power of all those who are insensitive, cold-blooded, dishonest and completely disconnected with the aspirations of the new India and the new woman.
Clearly, this was an unprecedented and non-violent outpouring not witnessed in post-Independence India with such magnitude and consistency. Even in Delhi, in Shakarpur and Mayur Vihar in east Delhi, in Dwarka near the airport, and in lanes and residential colonies, totally apolitical people came out with candles and placards, doing vigils outside metro stations, walking across homes, silently sharing the struggles of the upsurge, and the sadness of the death and departure of that beautiful and resilient girl.
Clubs have cancelled New Year bashes across Delhi and elsewhere; people are not celebrating. People are mourning. People are crying. People are shocked with anger and angst.
A chord has been struck somewhere in the intangible political unconscious of this huge and fragmented nation, stalked by violent machismo of men; something had snapped, so many strings had broken
One entire generation of youngsters has been stamped by this movement. This is the learning and unlearning of a new pedagogy. This is de-schooling society once again. This is an incomplete essay on liberation. The art of love, compassion and humanism. The solidarity of resistance.
In her death, the girl has united a million aspirations for justice. She has created a spectrum of dreams in colour and black and white and sepia. She has blown a whistle in the dark and everyone can hear its silent symphony. She has written a new chapter and a new book, yet unwritten. She has touched hearts and minds and untouched, invisible landscapes; she has flown a kite which swims in the blue of the sky with a message of liberation and justice.
Her struggle has moved both the margins and the mainstream, mixing and remixing the synthesis of epical struggles, sharpening social awareness, redefining the idea of feminism, society and politics, something the corrupt, disconnected and discredited Indian ruling class backed by the feudals and corporates, will neither understand, nor share.
History does not always repeat itself. The inevitable, one-dimensional and unilinear are often delusional and deceptive. Great enlightening ruptures often arrive as an astonishment and surprise, like a sudden blind corner after a bylane which you might miss because you never expected it. Conjectures or sudden corners in history are like accidents, miracles, revelations, crossroads; they come with stunning unpredictability and they make the night sky luminescent with the illumination of a million shooting stars.
They arrive like the adventure of ideas and resistance, creating new scaffoldings, breaking barricades, blowing with the wind, celebrating the rage of the new age, breaking on to the other side, eternally surprising macho masculinity. The militarism of authoritarian and patriarchal establishments block justice and aligns with injustice, pampers the rich and ravages the poor, allows relentless violence and brutality against women, in word, everyday silence, speech and deed. It nourishes all the entrenched structures of oppression and exploitation.
The affluent society of the rich, the millionaires and billionaires, the fat cats with unprecedented wealth, sanitised, clinical and antiseptic, detached and alienated from the majority, the millions of Indians who survive on Rs 20 a day, do they believe in egalitarian democracy, fundamental rights of all Indians, and the directive principles of the Indian Constitution? This is a society where the stark and epical violence of hunger and poverty has become integral to the violence of patriarchy and social injustice. When people protest, as in Nandigram or Kudankulam or in Jagatsinghpur against Posco, brutal repression is let loose. Sushma Swaraj called the girl a ‘zinda laash’ – a living corpse. Even when this fighter of a girl so desperately wanted to live. This was a Freudian slip. It reflects a mindset.
So what about the xenophobes of the Sangh Parivar, including ministers, who celebrated mass rape and mass murder in Modi’s Gujarat? Can one justice be isolated from a million other injustices? Can we refuse to look at the big picture and the big story and reject the tunnel vision of manufactured consent and hyperbole by obsessive television channels?
It is time to reclaim the freedom of unfreedom, create a new discourse, elevate the politics of everyday resistance
It is time to reject the itemisation of women. It is time to stop the objectification of women, turning them into commodities for the perverse male gaze and cannibalistic fantasies of the macho male. It is time to stop the camera from breaking women into sex objects, dissecting parts of their body and skin, as if they don’t have feelings, mind, soul, knowledge systems, aesthetics, aspirations, self-dignity. It is time to liberate the female gaze, liberate the body from the shackles of ossified, oppressive male structures, reject the stereotypes of bloodlust and the death penalty, celebrate the enlightenment of sensitivity, self-identity, political consciousness. It is time to reclaim the freedom of unfreedom, create a new discourse, elevate the politics of everyday resistance.
For how long can this nation celebrate the obscenity which reduces women into item girls of crude male consumption: Chickni Chameli, Badnaam Munni, Fevicol? Why should Honey Singh, with his bestial anti-women violence, perverse lyrics and brazen misogyny, be allowed to sing and perform in five-star hotels? What do the words of this song suggest and why should Kareena Kapoor allow herself to sing and dance to this song?
Main to tanduri murgi hoon yaar…
Gatkale saiyan alcohol se oh yeah…
Mere photo ko seene se yaar…
Chipka le saiyan Fevicol se…
Men have to restructure their own mind structures, introspect, do self-criticism, rethink masculinity. As in India Gate and all over the country, they should celebrate the freedom and identity of the new woman of India, young and old, in solidarity, resistance and enlightenment. To finally create a world where no woman ever gets gangraped in a bus.
Footnote: Why this hush-hush early morning secret cremation of the girl? Why were thousands of armed commandos posted all over Delhi? To fight which terror? When they can give a State funeral with a 21-gun salute to Bal Thackeray, who glorified the worst forms of violence against fellow Indians, and actually did it, why did they not allow ordinary Indian citizens to join her funeral? What are they afraid of – young girls and boys with candles?