I think it is safe to say that the country has never witnessed an uprising quite like this since the freedom struggle. Or at least in mine and my parents’ generation. The ongoing protests against the recent Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens started on 4th December in various parts of the nation. The CAA seeks to fast-track citizenship for persecuted/refugee Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Christians who arrived in India from the neighbouring states of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, very specifically before 31st December 2014. Muslims, the largest religious minority in the country, have been significantly omitted from the list, leading to nationwide protests. The NRC requires citizens to produce documents of ancestry to be recognized as Indian citizens, nullifying the standard Aadhar, passport, voter ID, PAN card as valid markers of one’s citizenship.
It is pretty clear to see that both these legislations come from the same place of thought. The BJP has made no secret of their mandate to transform India into a Hindu rashtra under their term. The NRC has already been implemented in Assam, where numerous detention centres have been built to detain people and strip them of their basic rights and citizenship. In what many are claiming to be a repeat of the ethnic cleansing that happened in the Holocaust, the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi administration are leaving no stone unturned to incite communal violence and potentially a civil war. Kashmir has been on a complete internet and communications blackout since 5th August, the internet has only been sanctioned in hospitals to authorized personnel, and SMS service has just been restored in the new year. The BJP stripped the state of its special status and curbed the freedom of speech of the Kashmiri people right from day one.
Jamia Millia Islamia’s peaceful student protests were subjected to horrific state-ordained police brutality, Aligarh Muslim University went through much worse, including open gunfire on their civilian population, and JNU was targeted by BJP and ABVP mobs with rumours of acid being thrown on students. Since then, there have been massive strikes and protests across all major institutions of higher learning across the country, with the teachers joining in. In the days that have followed, there have been protests on the daily, with more civilians joining in. People have been taking to social media to post photographs, videos of the police brutalities and religion based violence they have encountered in these protests since our own news media is the biggest sellout in this country till date. The night that my alma mater, Jamia MIllia Islamia was attacked, my class group was reverberating with messages and an influx of information pouring in by the second. Videos of tear gas being thrown on students huddled up in the central library, of injured students, of bruises and bleeding wounds, of our college buildings being vandalized and broken, of police trying to drag both men and women protesters with brute force, of the police invading even the girls hostel and washrooms, kept chiming in on my phone. Friends and batchmates who lived in Delhi went to Jamia to cover it, to show their support and protest, all at a great personal risk, and to keep the rest of us in different cities updated. A classmate of ours working for BBC was manhandled by the police, her phone smashed to pieces while on her job as a reporter. I saw countless videos of students with their heads smashed, critically bleeding, unconscious, lathi wounds, some wounded critically in their eyes, their limbs. I could not sleep for the next couple of nights.
As an openly gay person, I am truly frightened of what is happening in the country. The CAB-NRC puts every minority, religious or otherwise, in the line of fire. Part of me wonders whether the overturning of Section 377 was a mere fluke before the country began to irrevocably burn. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 was insidiously passed amidst the chaos of the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and almost completely erased the work achieved in the previous five years after the landmark Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014.
The BJP government or the Fourth Reich I would like to call it is hitting India where it hurts the most, in the beautiful valleys of Kashmir, the lush greens of Assam and its neighbouring states, women and the general student body, our resilient LGBTQ community, religious minorities, the large impoverished below poverty line populous, and so many more. I am glad a mobilization like this is happening, but part of me worries that it is happening too late. The resistance should have begun long ago when JNU was the only university protesting against anything and when Kashmir and the states of the North East were being subject to army violence and political scapegoating and when religious lynchings were happening all over the country. Our movements have not had intersectionality the way they do now, and I hope it lasts. We need all the allies we have, all the voices we have. It is probably horrible timing on the BJP’s part to have targeted so many minorities together within weeks and months of each other, and because minorities know how it feels to be persecuted and outcast, they are no stranger to civil disobedience and protest against the general tide. Even so, we are minorities on the basis of numbers, and that means we are outnumbered by the endless cockroach tide of bhakts, but probably not if we come together.
I have been diametrically opposed to my family’s political views for the longest time, the earliest instance being when I appeared on national TV as part of a queer collective I had started in my undergraduate college years. My father practically disowned me, threatened to cut me off financially if I did not stop dating the woman I loved. That was the first time in my life I was so violently and fundamentally attacked for my identity, and from a place that should have been home. I think that incident, more than anything, gave me impetus and a long lasting resolve to be out for as long as I could and as loudly as I could. I was studying in Lady Shri Ram College, a women’s college, and coming from a small town and a very patriarchal and dysfunctional nuclear family, the life there was a breath of fresh air. To be honest, it was actually the start of my life on my own terms. I eventually found the strength to go beyond my family’s ideas of me, and began reclaiming my identity on my terms.
However, LSR being a DU college, still had a very cocoon like charm of its own. It was a bubble of almost Themysciran utopia in the middle of the predatory city of Delhi; the Nirbhaya case and the Pinjratod movements both happened in my years there. I met like-minded, educated and responsible fellow citizens and students of my age, studied under the best of professors. It was one of the best times in my life. Delhi became home, and one of the cities I feel most rooted in.
For my postgraduate studies I headed to Jamia Millia Islamia, specifically the Anwar Jamal Kidwai Mass Communication Research Centre, which has a long list of famous and celebrated alumni, namely Shahrukh Khan, Barkha Dutt, Kabir Khan, Kiran Rao, Alankrita Shrivastava, Sharat Katariya, to name a few. Ever since I read my name on the selection list, my worries about my future for the next two years were quelled, but a new one cropped up. I did not know how Jamia was as a university, and I did not know how a Muslim minority institution would react to an openly lesbian student. All of those apprehensions were wonderfully torn down on day one itself, I was in a batch of the most diverse 50-60 people I had ever met in my life. But what made me stick to my original resolve of being out was one of our senior faculty, a butch professor who has done extensive work on LGBTQ themes in cinema and written a book on the film Fire walking into class, and confidently greeting the students and consequently making my gaydar burst into uncontrollable tears of relief, confetti and fireworks. Now my heart swells even more with pride when I see her and the other professors I had studied from providing their students with safe spaces in these horrible times, and speaking out collectively against the right wing mob violence. I am glad to have been taught by these people.
I found some of my closest friends in Jamia and LSR, and formed professional partnerships with many from the former. Two of my closest Jamia friends hail from Kashmir, and with another Kashmiri friend in our class, we made documentaries on the state that showcased the normal civilian life of everyday Kashmir, in an attempt to give the people a more humanizing representation in media. In the six months I was on ground in the state, it was literally heaven on earth. Kashmiris are some of the most beautiful souls in this country, I attest to that from personal experience; I was welcomed with open arms, and for the past two years in my life, if I have had any familial security, it’s because of the family I found there. I was distraught when the blackout happened, and I was overcome with a swirling void of depression the likes of no other at the possibility of never hearing from them again. It was months later when I finally did after tons of hits and misses with the landline services there. Even though I am not Kashmiri, and will not understand the unique culture of the state as well as a Kashmiri native, but probably will have a better understanding than most other non-Kashmiris, I understood and empathized for the first time the anguish and pain that my friends have felt constantly in their existence.
I am a filmmaker and a cameraperson-editor by profession, and I work in an industry that is very compromised on its politics. Bollywood has long been transphobic and homophobic in most of its history, with only a handful few sensitive mainstream portrayals of our community. Most of our film stars have taken to clicking selfies with the political bigshots and then making vague, spineless statements on the “violence” happening in our universities which amount to nothing. The few who have taken an out and out stance and spoken out against the fascist regime, have been subjected to their films being boycotted, online trolling and hatred. Mumbai feels like an insensitive city, and it does feel like most of these people, whose voices can do so much, will rather stay and watch the rest of the nation burn in order to protect their own fortunes, even if the fire licks at their very doorstep. They still fail to realize we all are doomed anyway, if the regime wins. There are bigger stakes to lose here. There will be no fame and glory and box office collection if the country is burning, if its citizens are being deprived of basic human rights, if the people on the backs of whom this industry literally earns of are criminalized. And if the government does what it did to cinemas and films in Kashmir, there will be no film industry to speak of in the country. For those of you who do not know, Kashmir has no functional movie halls. They were all taken over by the army and repurposed for military use way back in 1989, long before even the advent of the multiplex in the rest of the country.
I am one of the many LGBTQ folx in this country who cannot entertain the possibility of going back to my biological family for documents that prove my ancestry and citizenship. Even if I could, I would choose not to, because the circumstances of anyone’s birth are simply factors that nobody can control. Being with my biological family was the darkest time of my life, the psychological and emotional trauma of it all keeps cropping up in my life from time to time. Moving away and gaining financial control, deciding what I want to do in my life professionally, all of the choices I made were ones I could not have made while I was with them. I migrated across states to reach where I am today, and I am sure many others like me. Our trans siblings are in a much worse boat. The legislations in place for trans folx only allow them to legally change their first name, and this can not only cause them to be picked upon for their gender identity and/or expression, but also their religious identities. Most of us function beyond the realm of the traditional family structure and rely more on our chosen families for support, which is where the strong sense of community comes from. There is simply no end to the chaos and madness these laws will cause if the government targets our community next. It isn’t like they have given a sound logical reasoning behind any of the numerous laws they have drafted in the past year, and it isn’t like their actions are motivated by the greater good of the people.
The country is at its worst right now, and it has a lot of potential to go even further downhill. I am scared, and I feel like I am on the one-way street of depression that ends in doom, death and destruction. I am scared that I may not be able to protect my friends, my chosen family and my partner from the clutches of this despotic government. Every passing day, we seem to be one step closer to the dystopian universe that is depicted in The Hunger Games, Leila, The Handmaid’s Tale, and many more other such television shows and films. My friend from Kashmir, said this thing that keeps ringing in my ears, the Muslims, the students, the Kashmiris, the people from the North East, the LGBTQ community, we are probably the first and only line of defence for our country right now. We need to spread the word, spread love, resist, fight, and keep fighting, in our ways big and small, even if it’s too late, even if we are losing hope. If we do not act right now, if we do not mobilize, if we do not fight together, our country can disappear into an irreversible fascist future of darkness forever. Perhaps what we can do is start talking to people, to families who differ from us, to friends and coworkers who hold a contrary view of thought, and help them see reason. Some of the most toxic and unsafe spaces in our countries flourish in Whatsapp groups and family group chats. Maybe we start from there and keep going. Maybe corporates and the private sector can fill in the gaps for their employees, by providing special perks for diverse hires, and celebrities stop being apolitical and silent to the movement. We all have to do our bit for the country and this movement, people. But most of all, we need to collectively acknowledge and stop taking any of the bullshit this government is trying to do and getting away with.