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Can water cannons make youth forget their demands?

Wednesday, 26 December 2012 - 5:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Last week was hectic for Delhi. After all, not many cities can claim the honour of hosting 10 heads of state and governments in one go. That’s exactly what Delhi did as it celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Indo-Asean relationship.

Are we living on the dope of hope? That’s debatable as an absolute statement even if there is some grain of truth in it; after all, hope for one could be hopeless for the other person. You might term this confusing; and call it a contradiction in terms. So let’s leave the hyperbole aside for a moment and cast a critical look at the days recently gone by.

Last week was hectic for Delhi. After all, not many cities can claim the honour of hosting 10 heads of state and governments in one go. That’s exactly what Delhi did as it celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Indo-Asean relationship.

The government maintains that this relationship is nothing to be sniffed at because we have a bilateral trade of nearly $ 80 billion with the Asean group. But some critics say, so what? They compare and point to China’s trade of $300 billion with Asean. They go on to rub salt into the wound by adding that much smaller Japan traded goods worth $ 273 billion with Asean in 2011.

But all that is nit picking. Why should we be envious of others? We ought to be content with what we have achieved in twenty years of assiduously ‘looking east’. We should be content with our own trade figures, and be happier still that we could host 10 leaders even if the media played spoil sport and ignored them.

It is a pity though that the unfortunate incident against a young girl should have taken place then. We shudder to think what those 10 leaders might have thought about the state of affairs here. Some of them came with their families, and the saturation coverage of the incident must have filled them with misgivings about their safety on the streets of New Delhi.

But let’s leave aside the personal element. Let us try and concentrate on what must have gone on in their minds as they read the gory details of what had happened on a route they may have taken themselves. Would they have the confidence, when they return home, to recommend to their business leaders that they should invest in India? Are they likely to encourage their business executives to stay with their families in New Delhi?

Or, would they nudge them towards China? There they are likely to have the assurance of a leadership that has only recently pledged minimum tolerance for corruption and crime? They could also point out that the last major demonstrations against the government in China were many decades ago during the Cultural Revolution. The last two decades have largely been spent by the Chinese leadership in economic development and in speeding towards a dominant position in the world. There may still be many flaws in the Chinese system, but none so glaring as to worry a visiting foreigner about personal safety.

It is likely that the 10 Asean leaders were looking forward to their visit to India. This time of the year is idyllic when the winter sun makes the weather mellow. But upon their return, they might be wondering: Why is democratic India so protest prone? Why is it teetering on an edge year after year?

Last year, during the Anna Hazare moment, anything seemed possible. This December the young have risen spontaneously. The immediate provocation for them was one horrendous incident, but was it just that? Or was it a bubbling over of many frustrations: the daily harassment that young women face, the corruption at every governmental step, the arrogance of power?

The youth had gathered untutored; to seek justice against brutality and inequities. But their youthful enthusiasm was repelled repeatedly by the power of the state — by water cannons, tear gas and brute beating. They retreated repeatedly. But will that buckling under of the young boys and girls mean an end to their angst? Will it suppress their frustrations? Can it make them forget their demands?

The scenes of the present protest are reminiscent of the protests elsewhere in the world; those of the former eastern bloc, the Arab Spring and in the former Soviet republics. They resulted in the change of the established regimes. But there is a major difference; those were cries of despair. They were a desperate attempt by the oppressed to break free from the dictatorship in power. That’s why, in those states, even the security forces sided with the protesters eventually.

But that fortunately is not the case here. India is a democracy and security forces are going about their job as per higher directions. Still, this year’s protests are different. Like Prometheus, the youth face a hard struggle, but they have been unbound.

The writer’s satirical novel Almost An Ambassador is now available on Kindle

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