CAA Protest: Shrouds Of Silence As Bullets Speak

Silence no more.
Silence no more. Reuters India

Silence is golden, they say. Words, on the other hand, tend to overcompensate for some. However, what is usually left unsaid is that, wreathed in its golden charm, silence can also be one of the most brutal means of repression. Apparatus of suppression, in its most despondent form, it acquires the garb of inaction. More often than not, it is the silence of the protector that makes for the worst form of oppression.

A few days ago, a young man wielding a gun at a peaceful protest against the anti-Citizenship Act at Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi opened fire and managed to shoot a first-year Masters student. Video footage shows a human palisade of police personnel looking at the scene as the youth brandished the gun forward and occasionally waved it up in the air, religiously shouting “Yeh Lo Azaadi” (Take your Freedom), “Hindustan Zindabad” (Long Live India), and “Delhi Police Zindabad” (Long Live the Delhi Police). They also keep looking as he randomly fires a bullet and shoots the wrist of Shadab Najar, a student, as rounds on social media have posited, trying to go ahead and initiate a dialogue. The moveable yellow iron barricades are not wheeled aside to let the ambulance in. Instead, Najar, with his wounded wrist is made to seek the support of his classmates who hold him tight, fear and anguish never leaving their faces, and is made to climb up the barricade and cross over to the other side to reach AIIMS Hospital where he is admitted at the trauma centre. Their palms are bloodied as the police look. A similar palisade of shutterbugs clicks away. They record as they look. Silently.

More fresh news from Gun Island as I write: another person, openly claiming that “only Hindus will rule India”, opened fire in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area on Saturday. The women-led anti-CAA protest in Shaheen Bagh is past its 50th day as we speak. In merely 50 days, it has acquired the status of an enemy “nation” where “surgical strikes” should be conducted.

It’s not too far away in distant memory that one of the heads that presided over the ongoing budgetary presentation sessions went to public and heralded, “Desh ke gaddaron ko”, only to receive, “goli maaro saalon ko” (Shoot the traitors of the country) from the audience. His supporters merely pointed at the audience, the janata (people) who wanted to say it and so they did. India is a ‘democracy’ after all.

It’s not too much of a memory jog either to remember seeing our protectors, shooting and lathi charging students inside two of India’s premier universities. Bloodied books and fearful faces are seldom easy to forget. In other times, silence was again merged with indolence and not much was done as masked intimidators were emboldened by the silence of the protectors.

According to a recent report, the violence initiator at Jamia “told interrogators that every day, he would listen to speeches online and share offensive posts. During the questioning, sources say, there was no remorse by the shooter on the crime he committed.”

It’s more than obvious that all of our news feeds are inundated with rage-filled (and some disappointment-filled) op-eds and Facebook/Instagram/Twitter posts—finding the media at fault for prejudiced reportage, blaming the ruling party for relying on emotion-stirring politics in the wake of a declining economy, hollow promises, and impending elections, and some others calling out individuals directly or indirectly related to various incidents.

But, I want you to pause for a second. Scroll up and think about the larger pattern. Think about the kind of precedent that is being set and the kind of precedents that have been said. It’s 2020 and we have never had as much money, as fast communication, and as good access and education ever before and yet, historically, we are replicating the 1930s in every way possible.

How is it that it has also become so easy for someone to make violence so commonplace that one doesn’t even bat an eyelid before going up to a place of education—a place that is supposed to be ‘safe’, a place where knowledge systems are generated and epistemology is created—and initiate violence? Why has it become so easy to term a place, a set of people who are numerically, financially, and in every possible way, weaker than the violence-initiating system to be branded as dangerous as a neighbouring country? How has it become easy for an institution that exists, at least in principle, for the protection of citizens to take the road of violence and open fire on the very people it pledges to protect? One must remember that violence is not only in action. Violence also exists in the lack of action.

As we move forward, the one certain thing is that there is a long way to go. That we are going to keep waking up to news pieces that have the words ‘gun’, ‘fire’ and other permutations and synonyms of these in them. It is, then, upon us to lift the oppressive silence. As people who hold power and yet, at times, find themselves without any, it is at the end of the day, upon us to know that in this context, silence only implies apathy. More than ever, it is incumbent upon us now to recognise that in a state where the protector is switching seats with the aggressor, we are all protectors. We are all equally responsible for the collective promise we have made to people we have received our freedom from, to protect each other and not let selfish purpose lead the promise towards dereliction.

One of the antidotes to silence is poetry, for don’t we sing songs of hope on hopeless nights? But what when our protectors find it befitting to silence our nazms and uproot murals painted with our hopes—“jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garan, rooyi ki tarah udd jaayenge, hum dekhenge” (When the mountains of oppression and cruelty will flow away like carded wool, we will see) as they did yesterday? Then, dear reader, we sing louder. We put more of our harf together and, in unison, we sing because, “aise dastoor ko, subah be-noor ko, main nahin maanta, main nahin jaanta.” (I don’t know and shall not honour a custom of this kind, a morning that’s bereft of light.) We sing, we come together, we protect and we stay not silent. Not any more.

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