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Chakka jaam is undemocratic: occupying streets undemocratic, halting traffic undemocratic. This august statement appears in the 17,500-page chargesheet filed over the recent riots in Delhi. Only India, so very fond of the label proclaiming it the world’s largest democracy, could boast a police capable of such a claim. India witnesses chakka jaams and movements to occupy streets every other day.

Chakka jaam is undemocratic: occupying streets undemocratic, halting traffic undemocratic. This august statement appears in the 17,500-page chargesheet filed over the recent riots in Delhi. Only India, so very fond of the label proclaiming it the world’s largest democracy, could boast a police capable of such a claim. India witnesses chakka jaams and movements to occupy streets every other day. During proceedings concerning the removal of the Shaheen Bagh agitations, the Supreme Court affirmed that protest is a fundamental right. The same protests are now being represented by the Delhi Police as a conspiracy to incite violence, forgetting very conveniently that the amendment of citizenship laws prompted similar agitations all over the country. Could all of those protests be called conspiracies?

2014 onwards, prime-time debates on news channels have incriminated all such movements in precisely this manner. Every little group of them described as a gang, every opposing voice at once anti-national and urban Naxal. Traitorous and pro-Pakistan. Several anchors, reporters and people from the film industry were tapped for this project. The idea that a certain team of nation-betrayers was instigating these agitations was then added to the mix. A section of the Indian media had been communal right since 1947, but after 2014, the majority turned communal. For the first time, such legitimacy was conferred upon comments of a communal kind that two young men thought little of carrying firearms into Shaheen Bagh. Without such legitimacy, no one would have brought a gun to face a protest, nor the police stood idly by. Not for a moment were these incidents considered part of any conspiracy.

Godi or Toady Media is anti-Muslim media. Regarding the way they have covered recent events, the Supreme Court itself has remarked that a community is being targeted. Bombay High Court has said that the media has been doing what it has been doing to tell Muslims opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that it can do with them whatever it pleases. Every demonstration of the Muslims’ is, in the news anchors’ vocabulary, illegitimate. Undemocratic. The same vocabulary is becoming apparent in the chargesheet filed by the Delhi Police. Godi Media can label any citizen or group of citizens traitorous, pro-Pakistan and communal, and there is nothing the Delhi Police would find wrong with that.

News channels have established this new lingo. Every democratic mobilisation is illegitimate in its vocabulary. Every Muslim citizen ousted from its precincts. Any who stand up for them deemed pro-Pakistan. This language has not been crafted unassisted or behind closed doors. Several members of the BJP and its affiliates, ministers, politicians and their IT cell have established it in the political mainstream. Godi Media has given it a public forum. This lingo worked up a flow so furious, even its critics began to keel. Even they spoke of the need to end protests at Shaheen Bagh, for the sight of Muslims gathered together could only add to the BJP’s arsenal. Their arguments seemed to suggest that Muslims be wrapped up in sheets and stowed away in cellars: Muslims not be seen, nor the BJP benefit. Needless to say, Muslims began to feel ousted from the language of Godi Media’s critics as well. Their isolation and despond began to grow.

Resistance to the CAA was not resistance to an Act alone. The language from which one had been ousted had to be recovered. Ordinary Muslims and especially women were also part of this campaign. Their vocabulary was more constitutional—more inclusive—than that of any crusade. They were especially careful lest any word give Godi Media a pretext to tag them Pakistanis. This, in a sense, was a fight to affirm and show oneself Indian, which should not have been necessary. But when a whole group of citizens is banished from media and politics, such things must be done.

If we examine the vocabulary of the protests held between December and February, it can be said that ordinary Muslims and young people prevailed over Godi Media and its political overlords in the battle over language. None of several provocations made them lose their cool. Protest sites used to have a map of India. A copy of the Constitution. A reading of the Preamble. Pictures of Gandhi and other icons of the independence movement: Bhagat Singh, Maulana Azad. The BJP had no alternate language to face this challenge issued by language. Cut to the quick, when the BJP organised demonstrations, they were accompanied by slogans demanding summary executions for CAA-opposers. A Cabinet Minister raised slogans about gunning protesters down. The police does not find such slogans incriminating or part of any conspiracy. I have not read all 17,500 pages of the chargesheet. Those who have can say if it includes a statement declaring such slogans undemocratic. What it does include is that chakka jaam is undemocratic.

13 December 2019: Police enters Jamia Millia Islamia campus and library without the VC’s permission. Students are charged at with batons. They are forced to step out, hands raised in the manner of criminals. Never in the long history of India’s university movements have students been treated this way before. 

15 December: All-out violence on the campus of Aligarh Muslim University. Videos show it was chiefly police personnel engaging in violence. The High Court directs the Human Rights Commission to investigate the allegations against the police. Based on the HRC report, the Court asks the police to identify those who had baton-charged students. The media ignores the incident even at the level of reportage.

5 January: Masked goons enter one of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s hostels. Footage of the violence is public. A female professor sustains severe injuries. Delhi Police is yet to report progress in the matter.

The months from December to February were solely those of anti-CAA protests by Muslim women and young people. And not just in Delhi. Three major universities faced violence from police and goons meanwhile. Along with the CAA, this violence begot protests from more than 50 universities. Even IIM Ahmedabad and IIT Bombay witnessed demonstrations. Outside India, students and teachers protested at Oxford, Harvard, and several European universities. Young women’s participation in these demonstrations was more than enthusiastic, and footage of the march held by St. Stephens’ College’s women students would long haunt the powers that be.

The grandmas of Shaheen Bagh were not the sole face of resistance to the CAA. The students and professors protesting in more than 50 campuses might well have scared the state. In the narrative spun by the media, JNU had so far been the sole antagonist fomenting all dissent. But for the first time it saw the campus of democratic resistance spread far beyond the walled limits of JNU. News channels had assumed that young people had fallen prey to their propaganda. Had surrendered their intellect. But seeing them on the streets, sweeping in against a politics of Hindu-Muslim communalism, left everyone gasping for breath. A new democratic language was being forged on the university campus, ushered in by poetry and song. Nazms and poems from Habib Jalib to Pash had become slogans. As for the media, all their hard work since 2014 was rushing down the drain. A lingo they had so painstakingly erected had crumbled. It was in Delhi that the BJP lost elections in February 2020.

This is the reason accusations of conspiracy have been levelled at university students and professors. Universities of Delhi have been picked out so a message for all universities to remain silent can be sent out. With the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in force, students and professors are being taught the price of resistance. In one student activist’s case, the Court has ruled that the videos presented by the police as evidence “do not prove” that she “was indulging in or inciting violence”. Granting bail to another student held under the same charges, the High Court said that the police had not been able to produce any evidence to prove that a speech of hers had incited women of a certain community or that violence broke out because of anything she said.

Delhi Police is being unable to hold its own in the Delhi Riots’ initial hearing itself. Without the UAPA’s statutes, many of the accused would have been out on bail by now. But having its professional image tarnished by the court’s statements worries the police not in the least. So long as its master is pleased. The fight for justice in Delhi and elsewhere might keep students and professors many months in jail. News channels have sealed their lips when it comes to the injustices meted out to them. They have embroiled themselves in celebrity altercations in the name of justice for a recently deceased film star. University campuses have been sent a message reaching far and wide: stay silent. Amidst all this, the New Education Policy has been introduced. The sword of the UAPA hung before students and professors. Roots of the banyan of democracy hacked at in the university campus, the very grounds of democracy’s reconstruction, only to be replaced with the weedy thorns of babul.

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CONTRIBUTORS

Ravish Kumar is an Indian journalist, author and media personality. He is the Senior Executive Editor of NDTV India.

The article has been translated from the Hindi by Anugya.

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