The small lane next to the iconic Jantar Mantar in Central Delhi is no stranger to protests. But on Wednesday evening it was witness to a strange protest, with hundreds rallying with #NotInMyName banners. Despite the overcast evening sky, it was easy to identity a majority of them as middle class and educated — but these were also peppered with outliers. Besides many old and young people, there were senior citizens, school students and parents with semi-sleepy, irritated children in their arms. The placards they carried came in interesting, inspired varieties too.
Prompted by filmmaker Saba Dewan’s rallying Facebook post in the aftermath of 15-year-old Junaid Khan’s train lynching on June 23, the #NotInMyName protests were quickly put together in a number of cities to question the relatively consistent silence of government leaders, alongside a proliferation of lynchings and attacks on minorities in the last few years.
What seemed to unite many participants was the need to do something other than remaining silent spectators — reflecting or reacting only privately or online — over the several, dispersed hate crimes, often bearing the explicit mark of beef and identity politics. “If people are silent in the compartment while a child is being lynched, it means that humanity is dead,” said historian Rana Safvi, who has never attended a protest until this one, “It is important to show that you care, that you have a voice. If not now, when?”.
Another gentleman was also deeply tormented by the bystander apathy in Junaid’s case. “Hum buzdilon ka desh hain … uss dabbe mein ek bhi khada hokar nahin keh sakta tha ki ye galat hai (We are a country of cowards. Not even one could stand up to object to the brawl in that train compartment),” said Sridhar, a Delhi resident. “What troubled me the most”, he elaborated “is that it [Junaid’s murder] was not an incident that took place in an isolated place. We don’t know what happened in the train. It is well possible that the news that we are getting is slanted one way or another. But once the things started rolling, to let it progress to the point that someone is going to die and to encourage that as a bystander is horrible”.
“You can go back 10, 20, 900 years in history to find some justification, but where do we go from this moment on? Is this the future that we want for our children and our society?,” he asks, “Gujarat pogrom, Kashmir, Babur, Alauddin Khilji — all that is immaterial to the future”.
A protest volunteer, meanwhile, emphasises the need to voice dissent towards the government’s complicity via its overt indifference. “Unless we speak up, the people who are behind it are by default going to think that they have the majority’s support — which is not true”, said Monami Basu, Professor of Economics at Delhi University, “I am sure there are a lot of people — even supporters of the government — who, because of their humanity, do not approve of what has been happening. They need to come out. More so, the supporters need to come out and speak up that this is not why we elected you as our government.”
While many feel that the Congress days were gentler in terms of violence, the toothlessness of the current opposition to spearhead anything is hardly news. “There was a point when we thought that oppositional politicians would come out and take a strong stand — but they didn’’t,” said Yashodhara, an activist and former NGO worker. “There are no popular movements. Things are slacking because there is no political leadership. So I think it is time for ordinary citizens like us to come forward and say we don’t support this,” she adds.
People came from near and far — a group of Muslim men came from Mewat after finding out about the gathering via WhatsApp. A professor of law in the University of North Bengal came to lend his voice in defence of the idea of a heterogeneous India, which he felt was increasingly slipping away.
Asked what made him to come to the protest, Mahinder Singh, a Sikh who serves at the gurdwara nearby, said: “Zaruri isliye hain kyonki humare ghar mein bhi crime ho sakta hai. Hum agar aaj chupkar ke ghar baithe rahenge toh kal ko humara bhi number aa sakta hai. Fir humare liye kaun aayega. Aaj hum kisi ke liye aayenge toh kal ko desh bhi humare liye aayega (If today we sit quiet in our homes, tomorrow it may be our turn. And then who will come for us? If we show up for somebody today, tomorrow the country will also stand by us).” It is FM radio that informed him about the protest.
“It’s very sad that we in India are turning into our neighbours who have no tolerance for minorities,” said Farah Singh, who owns a theatre company and was attending the protest along with her husband. “We had an interfaith marriage, we brought up our children both ways. I grew up unafraid in a family of Muslims in Lucknow, so it’s heartbreaking to see the people who I knew growing up feel cornered and afraid,” she added.
A little further down are Yamin, Danish, Wajid, Khalid and Shafikur Rahman, who arrived to the protest in a larger group of 15-20 persons from Hauz Rani village in Malviya Nagar. They had been waiting since 4 PM for it to begin. “The government and the authorities say that Junaid was killed in a fight over seats, but no one kills for a seat. Dadi, topi aur naam dekhkar agar humare logon pe, musalmano par humle honge toh ye bada sochne ka vishay hai, gambhir vishay hai (If we will be targeted based on beard, cap and name, then this is a very serious matter),” said Danish.
The group, which includes an interior designer, a tea seller, a sales and marketing guy and one employed in a Faridabad based automobile company, found out about the protest via Facebook. They explain that aim of the protest is to make the government really think about this. “It is very painful for us that an innocent boy, on the occasion of Eid, had to bid untimely farewell to his life. This really saddens and scares us. The administration should now wake up, due arrests should take place and justice served. Whatever decision they take should be the right one,” they said.
Inevitably, there were also university students. “The mob lynching and targeting incidents have increased since the BJP government has come to power. It has very important to oppose this because it is the working class which is always the target. The affluent sections even within the minorities are not touched,” said Harish, a Delhi University student who comes from a Dalit family. He also offered the enduring initial critique, “The most important thing is how much the protest will be able to percolate at the ground level. Having educated people is also very important, but we do not have many from the victimised class among us — they are what’s missing.”
Speaking about how he felt about being among like-minded people, Sridhar also said, “I expected there’d be more. 10,000, 20,000 votes — that’s the language that the government understands. We also probably needed a bigger space than here to fit that many people of voting age. These many don’t count.”
Indeed, what a lot of participants seem to be hoping for is a longer engagement — an enduring movement that will sustain and build upon itself to sharpen the impact in future.