At the moment, something really, really major seems to be underway in India. The proverbial tipping point has finally been reached — there’s no looking back. And to think it has taken just a handful of masked assaulters (supported by the cooperative Delhi police) to shake up citizens and open their eyes to the outrageous political environment that is threatening to destroy the country. The optics of the horrific attacks on unarmed Jawaharlal Nehru University students will never ever be forgotten. They will be played out over and over again to remind us of the black day when goons attempted to silence those challenging the tyranny of the much hated CAA. Whichever political party instigated and orchestrated this nasty episode will live to regret the arrogance and foolhardiness of the plan. A plan that backfired so badly, it managed to derail the BJP bombast and demoralise puppet spokespersons babbling incoherently on primetime news. The JNU students’ fight back has been nothing short of remarkable, considering how it inspired thousands of other students from hitherto politically lethargic campuses to take to the streets in an impressive show of solidarity. This is an unprecedented occurrence in recent memory, and any attempt to devalue it will have negative consequences.
The biggest and most significant takeaway of the widespread response to the JNU attack is this: Citizens have got their voices back. They are saying emphatically, loudly and clearly — “we are not scared”. The bullies have been exposed. And no matter what sort of vindictive measures are taken by those in power, there is no stopping the fight for justice. It has taken our amazing students to show the way. The future of India belongs to them. They are the real stakeholders. Only a shortsighted administration will ignore their war cry. This is one major wake-up call that will have to be heeded before there is more bloodshed. The sight of masked thugs wielding iron rods and going about their systematic targeting of students, mercilessly beating and pulping the chosen ones, created so much revulsion and contempt, it made one wonder how the perpetrators could have imagined their unprovoked violence would succeed in intimidating the victims and end the protests. Those days are over. For six years a nationwide atmosphere of fear was deliberately and meticulously generated by the BJP. Citizens had started to believe that this foul, vitiated atmosphere based on belligerence and muscle power was here to stay. People had almost forgotten what it was like to express themselves without looking over their shoulders. Nobody mentioned names, nobody discussed the rampant atrocities, nobody talked about the unspeakable acts of brutality against our minorities. There was mute resignation and a quiet surrender as citizens all but cowered, not daring to voice their fears.
In retrospect, so much of what went so horribly askew during this dark period, appears positively unintelligent and completely shortsighted. Shrewd leadership is about reading signals. It also has a lot to do with empathy. Without empathy and a sensitive understanding of people’s anxieties and hopes, no government can last. Combine this lack of empathy with brute force and what those in power get is a temporary belief in their own invincibility. Well folks… that has been effectively nailed this week. Looking at the torrent of pointed criticism across platforms, it appears a major dam has been breached and the flood of public opinion has drowned out all the raucous noises from the megaphone wielded by the bullies. There is only so much propaganda that can be force-fed on aware, informed citizens. Our outspoken students have called out the disgraceful sham.
I was talking to a young hairdresser in a neighbourhood salon the day the masked hoods walked into the JNU campus. This young girl has not had the privilege of attending a college — she had to start working at age 16. But what she spoke about with such fervor and passion, with tears flowing down her cheeks, gave me tremendous hope. She was planning to join the protests in the city along with other girls from the salon — most of them just high schoolers. She talked about her grandmother spending sleepless nights worrying about being asked to produce a birth certificate. “She was born in our ancestral home, not in a hospital. There is no proof of her birth! We are poor Muslims who have lived in Mumbai for generations. Suddenly, we are asking ourselves, what if they throw us out? Where will we go?” There are millions like her across the length and breadth of India wondering about the same issue. Does the Prime Minister not hear their voices? Feel their anguish? He has been khaamosh all of this week. Someone should have told him a good leader takes charge during a crisis and speaks to the citizens directly. A good leader knows the power of reassurance. A good leader does not take refuge in silence.
Aishe Ghosh qualifies as a good leader. She has emerged as an exceptionally strong, formidable voice of reason. Her conduct has been inspiring and exemplary, as she continues to speak up and fight on, her fractured arm in a sling, her head swathed in a bandage. Iron rods could not destroy her will to challenge those who tried in vain to finish her off. She claims their intent was to murder her and her colleagues. Instead, what the world saw was a stupid masked woman showing her middle finger while retreating. Really? How pathetic she appeared! Almost as pathetic as Amit Shah and his cohorts as they bellowed and thundered — all hot air and bombast, puffed up egos and hollow rhetoric. I can’t even say, “How the mighty have fallen’’ — they were never mighty in the first place. Hurrah! The rule of puny Lilliputians may just have ended!
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