A new Azaadi Andolan

Written by Lalita Ramdas | Published on: February 1, 2002
You are right. We need to have people out in their thousands, not in hundreds. Is it that people are so immune to war and violence that we just don’t care anymore? Is it that people couldn’t care anymore about much else except their own immediate needs and survival? Are they scared to be seen in any kind of opposition to the inflexible and non-negotiable positions and postures adopted by our sarkar? And what has happened to the freedom of the press — have they become so subservient to this notion of so–called national interest as promoted by the government in power that there is scarcely any independent thinking or writing any more — at least in mainstream media?

Our recent experiences in our own little backwoods here around Alibag, interacting with village youth and young men in small towns, have thrown up several thought provoking incidents and reflections which must be very similar to those elsewhere in the country. It adds up to a frightening saga of how our education systems, the media — in a nexus with business and politicians — have so thoroughly brainwashed people that the only alternatives they can think of in terms of ‘desh seva’ and a meaningful occupation is to join the army to fight against terrorism "Yahaan marne se accha hai ki Hum vahaan, border mein, Kashmir mein, jaakar shahid ban jayen."

Ramu, I and a group of us local friends working in Pratham, Raigad, are seeking to engage these youth - telling them of other ways they can serve the country and the people - but it is tough, hard work. At the same time it has also demonstrated to us that this is actually what is needed desperately across this country, our region, to engage with these frightened, lost and frustrated young people — especially the young men and boys — talk to them, be with them, build their own self–image and confidence — and help create livelihoods and work. Can we ever hope to find a government that will have the guts and integrity to just concentrate on true human resource development for a decade — and abandon all the posturing and gung-ho rhetoric which feeds into the most negative of human emotions.

And you just have to scratch the surface and the anti–Muslim feelings emerge — frightening and raw. R– Bhai, a motor mechanic from UP, settled here for two generations, is one of our local life lines, a good friend and a decent, devout human being. Last week his daughter came home weeping from her school — a private, English medium institution. On investigating, she told them that a child had pulled away her close friend from the seat next to her saying, ‘Chhi, Chhi, Chhi — tum Mussalman ke saath kyon baith rahi ho?’ ("Goodness, why are you sitting next to a Muslim?’)

I remember many of us sitting together and exploring the formation of a political platform immediately after Oct 31, 1984. It seems to me that we have lost/wasted 16 years - and the country and people have paid a heavy price for it. Ultimately the decisions as to whether we will truly walk a path of peace and non–violence, truth and justice, will be a political one — and I am clearer by the day — that neither this present lot, nor, alas, the Congress, is in any position to project that alternative vision.

At the same time, I am convinced that this country has the leadership and potential. But they are scattered, immersed in a myriad issues and causes and struggles. It is these forces that need to be catalysed, persuaded to synergise their efforts and energies in the political forums.

And maybe that is the job for a group of us post–retirement wallas and wallis — just to help build those synergies. Turn into a kind of travelling task force — move around the country from one end to another for 3 to 6 months — seeking out the young leaders — bringing them together — and finding a way to challenge the present lot.

And the other thing that this rag tag, but still pretty large bunch of liberal, progressive, activists, intellectuals, academics, social workers, students need to do is to evolve constructive and practical strategies on how to work closely in programmes of creative intervention in the school system — at all levels — public/private/municipal and Zilla Parishad - in a broad programme of what some of us had termed ‘Development Education’ over two decades ago!!

Am I nuts? Maybe! But to me this seems to be the right moment to begin to think, talk, plan and work towards this. Sorry for this diatribe. But I have come to a point where I don’t want to see a newspaper or another email, a news broadcast or other information.

But yes, tell each one who marches to also come up with a plan for what they will personally commit themselves to doing for a new Azaadi Andolan — for the next two weeks, two months, two years, etc. Let that become the programme for the Coalition for Peace. Maybe this is also an appropriate time for mass action across the country, a huge padyatra of people from North, South, East and West who can also then counter the vicious messages of the renewed Rath Yatra type of movements which are going to be taking off all round in a spiralling crescendo leading to March 2002 and the Ayodhya construction. And yes, maybe we march with thousands to Wagah and beyond, to work in the refugee camps on the Afghanistan border? And one final thought — this time it must be women who must take the lead, women and children.


Archived from Communalism Combat, January-February 2002 Year 8  No. 75-76, Readers Forum
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