Over the last several days, cities across the country have seen hundreds of people gathering for the Not In My Name protests.
From celebrities to students, the attendees were a cross section of the people whom the bhakts fondly call “presstitutes” and “sickulars”.
I did not go, because two issues were being confused – the lynchings and the cattle sale ban.
The latter is largely seen as discrimination against Muslims, but as an animal rights activist, I do keep track of the figures regarding consumption of animal products, and it has little to do with religion. The cow worshippers may not eat their “mother’s” flesh, but they do drink her milk, and they do wear her skin on their feet, on their shoulders, and to keep their trousers up. It warms my heart to read that the leather industry is running at a loss and that tanneries are shutting shop. It is my hope that it will no longer be profitable to rear cattle, and that I will not see teats being pumped for milk to pour on gods, over posters, into throats.
The lynchings, though, are evidence of the indifference of the state, of the failure of the law and order apparatus, of the fact that for all our claims of development, we are a savage people.
As I wrote last week, the perpetrators are never all caught, and it emboldens them to repeat their crimes and inspires others to emulate them.
The people coming out in numbers to protest against the lynch mobs gave the impression of unity in the face of tyranny, of the power of democracy.
But does our democracy really have power?
Will this protest become a movement that will culminate in the BJP being ousted from office?
Or are we staring at another term?
And if we oust them, what are our options?
If the Congress was ineffective when it was in power, it has been even more pathetic in its role as Opposition. It has ignored key issues on which it could have pinned the government down – its idea of a protest against demonetisation was Rahul Gandhi rolling out one of his petulant publicity stunts – and focused on the same things that lost it the last election.
Does the protest carry any importance to the government itself? Even as it was being planned, the Prime Minister was coercing US President Donald Trump into multiple hugs and long handshakes.
Within days of the protest being the talking point, social media is back to wrapping its existence around cricket and celebrities.
And so, to the Prime Minister, the protests demanded no response greater than under-140-characters: “No one spoke about protecting cows more than Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Yes. It should be done: PM”, he said on Twitter.
The protests will not mean much unless they: (a) Figure out a single point of unity (b) Grow into a mass movement.
The first is crucial because there are tens of thousands of vegans like me, who believe animals are not food; and we also believe that people who kill or eat animals should not turn into game for the hunting mobs when there is a law in place to deal with them.
The second is crucial because no protest thus far has become big enough to prompt a government rollback. Yes, there were masses who cried for the bloodthirsty, casteist brutality that is jallikattu, but it prompted the government to overrule the Supreme Court, not itself. We kept quiet through the enforcement of the “voluntary” Aadhaar. We kept quiet through tax “reforms”.
But most fatally, we kept quiet through demonetisation.
Instead of taking to the streets and screaming our lungs out until the government was forced to hear us, we stood at queues in ATMs and bank counters, hoping to get enough money to sort out our groceries, our rent, our hospital visits.
The government had made a rash decision with a promise it never fulfilled. It was not even prepared with the new notes to replace old ones. Even while the common man was waiting for hours on end in the vain hope of getting a single acceptable currency note, raids found hundreds of them stashed away at the houses of politicians and businessmen.
We did nothing.
Perhaps the demonetisation was this government’s test drive. And when we did nothing, they knew we would do nothing.
They could impose any rule on us and we would do nothing.
They could leave us to fend for ourselves and we would do nothing.
And for all the masses of people that turned up to add their voices to the chorus, unless we find direction and power, we will do nothing.