We are writing this while in detention

We are writing this while in detention

GAYATRI KHANDHADAI & NEHA AYUB (Credit: DH)

Every act of dissent is deeply personal and political. In Chennai, many of us have been raised in an environment in which discussions on the Dravidian ideology, essentially built around delivering social justice and defending our linguistic identity, are perennial.

Given this, and the fact that Chennai has always been fearless in voicing its dissent, it was quite hard to see Chennai go silent about the recent onslaught of fascist policymaking.

Over the last few weeks, the areas where we assembled and protested were either occupied by political parties or organisations that were obsessed with long speeches and worshipping of leaders.

Repeatedly, we have been pushed to the edges of the city, with little visibility. We, youngsters and citizens, were desperate to exercise our right of dissent in a space that was truly democratic, where women, trans persons, Dalits and other marginalised sections did not have to elbow for space or scream to be heard, where hyper masculinity is not the only visible form of resistance.

Beyond a right, we consider this our duty. It is our duty to stand for India and to stand with the millions who are out on the streets, battling biting cold and heat from the police.

Our institutions and streets have been rendered apolitical, forcing people like us to exist in an environment of absolute apathy. Lessons that were imparted to us in schools and colleges are in complete contradiction with the spaces that we occupy as students in a democratic country.

The police haven’t held up guns and lathis yet, but the kind of repression the Tamil Nadu government has exercised is unbelievable. Those of us who wanted to dissent in our own individual ways decided to draw kolams (rangolis) that weighed heavy in secular messaging.

Even this completely non-violent and cultural form of expression of dissent have been seen as so ‘revolutionary’ that the State feels threatened to the core.

Amidst all this, the solidarity of women who have been wagging their fingers at the cops, singing songs of revolution, grabbing the mic and sending clear messages has been emboldening.

The silence wouldn’t have been so deafening if Chennai had stepped out of its comfort zone and moved beyond the idea of police permissions being necessary for every protest. Especially when there is a promising potential for gathering in larger numbers, as the issue is no longer about cultural identity alone, but about the right to exist; the right to live by exercising our constitutional rights.

The fear of police brutality and unlawful detention is very prevalent amongst the citizens of Chennai. 17 of us were detained on January 10 and over 100 of us the next day as the police withdrew permission for us to protest peacefully at the last minute. The pattern of actions is glaring and cannot be ignored anymore.

Although freedom is a given, we are constantly having to pry it away from their clenched fists in whom power resides. And doing so requires a few to pay the price -- whether it is detention, arrest, harassment or even violence.

In the land of Periyar, where norms have been challenged, rights have been fought for and unlawfulness kept at bay, it is only right and our responsibility that we maintain this struggle and, hopefully, amplify it. After all, wasn’t it Ambedkar who said, “Educate. Agitate. Organise”? The fact remains that there is dissent against fascism in every one of our hearts, even the lathis that the police wield are held in the hands of men who wish they could join us and roar against oppression.

The chants for a new India, for azadi, for Viduthalai (freedom) and the voice of dissent, although muzzled, will be consistently heard in the streets of Chennai.

(Gayatri is a lawyer-activist, Neha Ayub is a college student in Chennai)

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