A Million Mutinies Now: Surge of youth activism in India


rape-pixMaterialistic, technology-dependent, perennially distracted, ill-mannered and outspoken – this is how most people describe the current generation of young adults. And they might be right. But there is another side to this wicked lot – they’re also bold and purposeful. And hungry for change. Revolution is not exactly dead; contrarily, a million mutinies are itching to erupt.

And this time round, the youth of the country are not content to soak in sentimental angst; the restless 20-somethings are taking to the streets to fight for a better India.

This has been a long time coming. Rang De Basanti touched a nerve; the Jessica Lal case boiled our blood and corruption during the Commonwealth games hurt our pride. Now, WE ARE FED UP!

Ashraf Patel (co-founder of Pravah and ComMutiny – The Youth Collective, both organizations work to promote youth development) puts it quite aptly, “Many young people out there want to participate actively and have their voices heard. We can see a lot of powerful action in campus and on the streets. This is an important step towards a transformational process both at an individual level and at the level of society. What is required for change is sustained engagement and greater reflection and dialogue in personal and public domains at the same time.”

Enough!

I’m an adult who still identifies with her college self. I am also a woman in a society where women are victimized on a daily basis. What was done to Nirbhaya, a young physiotherapist who was brutally gang-raped last year, and the five-year-old girl cannot be called rape. It was much worse! It was pure sadism. When does this finally stop?

What irks me are high-falutin statements made by people in power, passing casual judgments on the way women dress, their actions, their words. These are the very same people who frame our laws, police our streets, whom we’re supposed to trust with our lives and our futures. I am not allowed to swear on a public forum or else I would!

But there are others who make me proud – the young folks who aren’t buying this BS! The Pink Chaddi Campaign by the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women in 2009 and the Slut Walk by Movement for Change are a slap-in-the-face proof that this bunch of supposed ‘brats’ is ready to throw out the old rotten views and move in with the new.

Does Social Media Really Help?

There are no clear statistics on the number of protests in India. But visibility is definitely higher. It is easier these days to garner information, engage with people, organize protests, spread the word and take a stance. And we have social media to thank for this. Considering the amount of time tech-dependent kids spend on Facebook, Twitter and other such sites, it’s no wonder that social media is the best way to get everyone together and take action. By the way, the oldies aren’t that far behind. Most parents are on Facebook too!

But we are city kids with cell phones and Internet access. India is still at the adolescent stage of using social media for campaigns. It does help us tap into the views of the urban folks who live in big shiny cities, but the majority of the Indian public remains elusive. There is a social divide highlighted by the digital divide. We must also find a way to educate the masses that cannot hear our voices through TV and other media. Till then, the mission is incomplete.

Patel agrees that “social media is certainly an important part of transformation,” but stresses that “it cannot work independent of deep on-the-ground engagement.” “Online protests have to be complemented with day-to-day action at a personal and social level in order to bring about long-term change.”

Education Is the Key

I don’t mean just formal education. Though we have a long way to go on that front too. However, the education that I am talking about is of a different kind. It’s sensitization aimed towards creating a new mindset.

A mother telling her son not to talk to ‘those’ kind of girls, the ones who wear short skirts. A husband telling his wife that he’s the boss in front of their kids. Parents telling their daughter no one’s going to marry her if she talks back. This has to change!

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that you let teenagers run wild. But isn’t there an alternate option of guiding them in the right direction without making an unfair division between the sexes? That is where it starts, right? What has the length of that girl’s skirt got to do with who she is as a person? Why aren’t husbands and wives considered equal in every sense of the word? Why is it that when a girl questions the status quo she is talking back?

Says Anshul Tewari, founder and editor-in-chief, Youth Ki Awaaz – Mouthpiece for the Youth: “Our societal problems of gender have cropped up because we are inherently a patriarchal society. We have built our thoughts that way, and are conditioned to grow up like that. I would love to see young people bringing these changes in their own lives by challenging themselves in these situations. They need to get themselves to be ‘okay’ with things that are right, but might disturb them, and this can happen when they accept it whole heartedly. Moreover, I think we need to stop raising our kids in a patriarchal system. A man, woman, transgender or anyone else is as equal to anyone. We need to learn this from the moment we are born.”

New Mindset, New World

That’s the end goal – change! Changing how people think. Changing the law. Changing the way those laws are implemented. Changing education. Changing our ideas of leadership. Changing ourselves!

Manak Matiyani, a Delhi-based media activist who leads MustBol (a campaign against gender-based violence), makes a good point. “We need to invest in building the capacities of young people to figure out their own issues and what they connect with and then take action in the best way possible. Not hand them an agenda, but help them set their own agendas. The connection to issues should come with an active engagement with self. This will automatically make the action taken by young people more meaningful. Drama happens at India Gate, action happens elsewhere. We need to be part of both.”

Screaming at the top of their lungs, braving water cannons, battling the cops’ lathis, the civically engaged Indians are not giving up. We might wear Western clothes, listen to loud music and eat junk food but we are proud Indians. If we didn’t care about the future of India, why would we leave our comfortable lives to stand day and night on the streets to protest? It’s because we have a vision of what our country can be.

The authorities need to wake up! The last time the people of India took matters in their own hands, we gained Independence. It’s time to gain it back, again!

We want to be able to walk the streets at night without fear. We don’t ever want an innocent child to be tortured and raped. We want justice for those who have suffered. We don’t want to hear the empty promises of the government again. We want action! We want results!

To quote writer-activist and moral philosopher Elie Wiesel, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”