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Learning to Stir the Cauldron of Protest

A new book has a recipe for a better tomorrow, or at least step by step instructions and the ingredients for those keen to become informed and vigilant citizens.

Representational use only.Image Courtesy: Flickr

Aakar Patel’s latest offering, The Anarchist Cookbook: A Toolkit to Protest and Peaceful Resistance, is a scintillating read. It has a fantastic recipe for a better tomorrow and the readers would find themselves stirring the cauldron of protest. The book has some key ingredients for the cauldron, and if its recipe is followed step by step, the brew would result in an informed and vigilant citizenry, in short, an activist.

For those entrenched in the conservative camp, the mere mention of activism, anarchy, or a toolkit for protest might be unsettling and debilitating. Yet it is essential to recognise that the true essence of this book is not in the buzzwords that adorn its cover but the nuanced and profound ideas that lie within its pages. Those with a partisan agenda may emerge from the depths of their IT cells to label this cookbook as seditious or iniquitous. The right wing, for instance, might insinuate that the cauldron has a dragon’s tooth or a snake’s fang. For the discerning reader, it is advisable to let such attempts pass.

Patel effortlessly invites readers into a realm with captivating anecdotes where merely reading catalyses pensive revaluation. He journeys with the privileged class and concludes with why the same must rise against the prevailing situation in India.

Why rise from the snug couch, to begin with? The underlying question is: shall we leave it to the political parties to ration rights to us, or shall we take responsibility? The author answers the question by reading the fundamental rights of the Constitution. Are we equal before the law? Perhaps not, or there is no particular explanation for allowing refugees based solely on faith. Is untouchability abolished? Ask someone from the Dalit community, and the answer will be no. Are we free? Only if we seek it within the ambit of reasonability. Perhaps one could enforce these rights via the heart and soul of the Constitution. Let us discount the government’s interest. Even so, the cauldron is bubbling, and now is the time to query the rights as to whether we are at the crossroads of authoritarianism or it has already dawned.

It is unassailable that the rights were merely given to us. And those rights were further restricted. For instance, the sixteenth constitutional amendment, infamously known as the ‘Anti-Succession Bill’, gave rise to draconian laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Patel exhorts that India has gone [further] down the slope after the 2014 regime change. He delves into reports published by global watchdogs measuring the country’s progress on various necessary indices. Although one may point out that the statistics in the book are a little outdated, they are not healthy at all. The current reports by the same organisations point to even more fragile conditions of liberty and rights in the country. Most reports suggest a further crumbling of the fundamental rights of the press and the citizens.

The recipe for effective activism would require awareness, dissemination of ideas, collectivisation, and reaching a larger audience. Some “not-so-secret” ingredients which have been tried and tested in tackling ruthless colonial rule in India and derogatory apartheid institutionalisation in South Africa are the theory of change and power mapping analysis. Addressing and analysing the problem to establish why the desired change is expected to occur and carefully charting the power dynamics is the best way to bring about the desired change.

The brew of protest has been prepared and served in several cauldrons in the last decade. One may refer to movements which stirred the world, such as #MeToo. The movement gained momentum and support from progressive groups in India when journalist Priya Ramani tweeted about sexual harassment by an incumbent [now ex- minister]. One may also refer to more such collective actions where the masses have resisted laws which were discriminatory or clandestinely tried to benefit the corporate cronies of the incumbent powers-that-be.

India today is a country of extremes. The erstwhile economic capital of India has the world’s most expensive residence, Antilia, and the biggest slum in Asia, Dharavi. The class divide in the country is disparaging of its claims, where the total debt owned by the Adani Group adds up to 1% of the Indian economy. And the divide is increasing sharply. Since 2000, the number of billionaires in India has risen from just nine to 119 in 2020.

Here the poverty line is criminally measured as those who earn more than Rs 47 per day in urban and Rs 32 a day in rural India. Those who make a rupee more are not poor. Though the manner of measurement might be absurd, what is staggering is that 35 crore Indians live below this meagre poverty line. Reports suggest that the Muslims of India are being strategically excluded from infrastructure development, and their representation in government is at an all-time low. Agencies like the Research and Analysis Wing are reluctant to hire Muslims. But the narrative of Muslim appeasement prevails—solely to gain political mileage and electoral dividend.

All these waters down to—why set aside privilege or become an activist? Because it is our consumption patterns that influence the media landscape, shaping the narratives presented to us. Everything is reflective of us, the privileged, in the government, the judiciary and policies. If a large section of society is in a soup, we are responsible for it and must act.

The author is a lawyer practising in Delhi. The views are personal.

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