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Gauri Lankesh murder: Turn the protest into a fight

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 13-09-2017

© Provided by Hindustan Times For two days last week, motley groups of Mumbaiites gathered at multiple locations to protest the brutal murder of Gauri Lankesh, the Bengaluru-based editor of the weekly Gauri Lankesh Patrike. The liberal and secular slice of Mumbai society protested at Bandra’s Carter Road, shocked journalists gathered at the Press Club, the Left and affiliates protested at Hutatma Chowk, and other groups in Vashi.

Some protestors are familiar faces at such events. The words too are predictable. The secular, liberal and progressive voices are earnest, we mean well, we intend well. We have been around for decades protesting clampdowns on and challenges to freedom of speech and expression, raging against the attack on an independent-minded editor, the arrest of a cartoonist, the gunning down of a crime journalist, murders of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and others.

At the protests against Lankesh’s murder, the feeling was more or less the same that prevailed earlier: Shock at what happened, outrage at the forces that enabled it to happen, and assertions that something must be done to halt the march of fundamentalists. Many of us, or almost all, who gathered to protest Lankesh’s murder had assembled less than three months ago to protest mob lynching in a series of #NotInMyName gatherings. Some had been to the massive rally last monsoon against the razing of Ambedkar Bhavan.

The protests, the candle light marches, the sloganeering are expressions of solidarity. They are also symbolism at work, necessary and urgent at a time when our civil liberties and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are under threat. The symbolism carries its own message of commonality, camaraderie, perhaps even unity in a limited sense. Back in the 1990s, pseudo-secular was a slur; now, secular and progressive are hurled as insults, some liberals of the champagne sipping kind perhaps have it a tad easier.

But what comes after a protest? Little, until the next one. Till then, secular, progressive and liberal Mumbaiites seem to retreat into their clusters, do their own thing, march to their own tunes, maybe rant a bit on social media. People and organisations that can – and should – join forces against the common enemy of fundamentalism, speak in one language, lie fragmented by fine differences in ideologies or objectives, if not egos.

There is now an urgent need to broad-base the ideals and ideas that secular, progressive and liberal Mumabiites stand for, to reach out to younger and hitherto excluded sections of the city, to capture the imagination of the middle classes, to impress upon them the need to protect the values enshrined in the Constitution. This will take hard and sustained work, this will call upon secular, progressive and liberal people to generously devote their resources and energy, this will bring challenges and perhaps even repressive reactions.

There is an equally urgent need to strategise, both in the short-term and the long-term. The reactionary and fundamentalist forces, the forces that thrive on hate and othering are organisationally strong and tactically clever. In every assault, through every lynching and murder, they send out a message for those who challenge them. In every protest, they find something to deride and demean. This was on display in the days after Gauri Lankesh’s murder. To take on such forces calls for a clear strategy, common minimum programme, and a sustained collaboration – if not unity – between different streams of secular, progressive and liberal people.

There is also a need to evolve a common language, beyond tired slogans. Remember what George Orwell wrote? “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. How best should this be ​done and on what platforms?

Of course, this is political. A good fight always is. A protest should be merely a part of such a fight.

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