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Who you should listen to in 2020

  • Listen to the Muslim women of Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, who continue to sit in protest, shrugging off the near-freezing temperatures, until, they say, the government withdraws the CAA

The poet in his video ‘My name is Aamir Aziz, ask me about myself’.
The poet in his video ‘My name is Aamir Aziz, ask me about myself’.

The last year ended with Indians finding their voices. As the new year begins and the establishment finds ways to push back against protesters, it is likely that the clamour will only increase. In Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, the following exchange occurs between two characters: Q. “How do you do it? Defeat an empire with almost nothing?" A. “We had each other."

Those of us who are grappling with our own answers to this question in 2020 will need to know which voices in the clamour we should take seriously. Here’s my game plan for listening in 2020.

Listen to the women: In the last couple of years, women’s voices have stood out from the crowd, voices that are loud, clear, firm and human. Whether it was New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who held her country together after a terrorist attack last year, teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who made the world sit up, all the women who said #metoo, US soccer captain Megan Rapinoe, who called out her “racist" president, Donald Trump, or Ladeeda, Aysha, Chanda and the hundreds of other students who protested against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which many believe violates our secular Constitution. Listen to them. Listen to the Muslim women of Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, who continue to sit in protest, shrugging off the near-freezing temperatures, until, they say, the government withdraws the CAA.

As student Chanda Yadav says in Unafraid: The Day Young Women Took The Battle To The Streets, a recent report by the Independent Women’s Initiative that chronicles women’s voices in the CAA protests at Jamia Millia Islamia: “My mother says ‘come home, you have nothing to do with this, don’t be in the forefront, stay back, girls should not be getting involved in all these things.’ You know how it is—my family is very conservative, patriarchal. I’m the first girl in my village to go to a university. I understand how they think but I cannot remain distant…The CAA and NRC (National Register of Citizens) are unconstitutional whether you are a Hindu or Muslim or something else."

The slogan on protest posters in recent weeks perhaps puts it best: “Women will destroy Hindu Rashtra."

Listen to the incarcerated: Listen to their voices because they are leading the fight against what they describe as fascism. A booklet compiled by well-wishers about the activists who have been behind bars in Yerawada Central Prison, Pune, in the Bhima Koregaon case for more than a year, reproduces a letter written from jail by Vernon Gonsalves: “The other day I had this nightmare. At every stop there was this smiling portly clerk, peeping up from behind his big bad book. Slamming it shut with an ominous thump, his eyes boring down on me, he’d voicelessly mouthed the verdict, ‘Not in Register!’ Chasing me wherever I ran, ‘Not in Register!’

“Drenched in sweat, I awoke. The bars were in place, so were the shadows. I felt so secure, so safe.... Most terrifying is that well-dressed man. He’s egging on the armed hordes with single-minded dedication. I can’t shake off the threat of his eyes. They’ve got the righteous earnestness of corporate social responsibility… Isn’t it nice to be sheltered when a hundred horrors abound? I even have a cast-iron alibi for not being out on the streets fighting fascism. Yet, I’m restless."

Listen to the victims: Listen to them because they, better than anyone else, will give you enough reason to pick the correct side in this fight. Nearly 20 people have been killed in clashes between the police and protesters in recent weeks in Uttar Pradesh alone. Protesters have been jailed and sedition charges filed against several. There is a video of a senior police officer asking protesters to “go to Pakistan". From Uttar Pradesh to Karnataka, victims have shared horror stories of lathi charges and custodial beatings by the police, vandalism of personal property, and the alleged illegal detentions of their children. In Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, Faiz Khan, who ran to help an old man who had fainted in a crowd, was shot in the neck and killed, his twin brother Faraz told news reporters.

Listen to the victims because they often don’t have even the basic civil rights we take for granted in a democracy. They only have your ear.

Listen to the poets: They have really come through for us these past few weeks. Besides, there’s nothing like poetry to document rebellions. “Poetry is non-confrontational and still engaging," says Varun Grover, writer, poet and lyricist, whose powerful poem Hum Kagaz Nahi Dekhayenge has been viewed more than 700,000 times on Twitter. “It’s the most unarmed of art forms—just a string of musical words stitched together with rhyme and emotion. And it’s this quality that disarms angry opponents," says Grover.

He says Aamir Aziz’s Main Inkaar Karta Hoon tops his protest playlist. “(West Bengal’s chief minister) Mamata Banerjee’s Kutush Kutush—though just a quote/slogan of sorts —should soon be a poem. Iqra Khilji’s Dharti Toh Ye Gulzar Hai is beautiful and it was the first one to come out of this movement," adds Grover.

Stop talking, start listening.

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