For nearly every day the past month, there is one ritual that a section of the campers at Zuccotti Park, New York — the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street protests — have participated in without fail: a 20 minute ‘flash meditation’ session led by Alokananda aka Aloka.
The session weaves in a medley of yoga, Qi Gong, laughter therapy and deep breath meditation. A certified yoga instructor and Reiki master who has trained in India, Aloka, a native New Yorker, leads his audience into several rounds of ‘Om’ chanting and follows it up with Osho: “Society is just a word, it is the individual who makes the difference.” A huge hit with the Zuccotti Parkers, Aloka, who is as much at ease with Sanskrit as he is with Shamanism, claims his “meditation flash mob” keeps the protestors’ energies running high, their enthusiasm soaring, and their spirits aligned with their bodies.
They may be several generations removed from the Beatles, but it comes as no surprise to see yoga and Gandhi fitting right into the spirit of the Zuccotti Parkers.
Almost all the protestors invoke terms such as civil disobedience and non-violent protest and quote unfailingly from Martin Luther King.
Some like Jason Ahmadi from California speak passionately about ahimsa and satyagraha. Others like Kathryn Adams from Wisconsin speak about “bloodless resistance where you conquer through reason, not weapons.”
You would, however, be disappointed if you looked for too many Indian faces among the protestors. Neither the vibrant eclecticism of the protests nor the rapidly declining job market figures has been enough make America’s ‘model minority’ throw in their lot with the protestors. Considering the outpouring of online support for Anna Hazare from Indians in the US — nearly 300 people gathered in New York’s Times Square during the peak of the ‘Occupy Jantar Mantar’ phase — this lukewarm response has come as a disappointment to some of the more involved Indians among the protestors.
Anup Desai, one of the protest organisers, interprets this as the typical Indian complacency over things that do not immediately disrupt their world. Desai, who teaches Philosophy and Geography at the City University of New York, does not hide his disappointment when he says, “Indians are among the most successful people in the US; they work hard and make it to good jobs. Their participation in a movement such as this would bring in a lot of good perspective. But I am yet to see many Indians doing this.”
Writer and documentary filmmaker Priya Reddy who has been videographing the protests from day one agrees, “Not just Indians, many other ethnic groups are also missing from the protest. We need more people, especially Indians, to let go of the status quo and come forward, considering that many them have been seriously affected by rising unemployment.”
Not all ‘successful’ Indians agree though, and especially those employed by Wall Street itself. “The protesters have not been able to come up with an organised rationale for their protests even after 40 days. Agreed that not all is well with Wall Street, but this is only a symptom of a larger malaise. Wanting to tear up Wall Street without fixing up the system at large may get them all the attention they need, but that is where the buck will stop,” says stock analyst Vikram Khandelwal. His cynicism, though, does not stop him from dropping by occasionally at Aloka’s meditation flash mobs.
Some of the organisers see no need for stratification among protestors along racial and ethnic lines. “It would be good to see more diversity among the protestors, but that is not a serious handicap. We are growing everyday, everywhere. This is a global movement and that is how we would like to be identified,” says Carter H, one of the core group of protestors.
What does seem to strike a chord with Indian students in the US are reports that suggest that the protesters may eventually be seeking a rationalisation of student loans. Despite funding drying up for many universities, and tuition fees showing no signs of abatement, the US still continues to receive more Indian students than any other country in the world. On the New Jersey train back home, NYU student Mahesh Panicker says the anti-Wall Street protests are “really not his kind of thing.” Panicker has been interning with a firm in the financial district and aims to join the investment banking industry. “However, if they want to do something about student loans, they have my support.”
It may take more than just Om, Osho and Gandhi to bring Indians to Zuccotti Park.