A protest against fascism at the Kalaghoda Festival
By Anand Benegal, 12
Some time back, the Shiv Sena ( a political party in Mumbai) boycotted the Hindi film My Name Is Khan – all because its lead actor Shahrukh Khan had said in an interview that Pakistani cricket players should be included in the teams that play in the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches. Some rowdy Shiv Sena party workers even attacked and damaged booking windows in cinema halls in Mumbai. We decided to protest against this parochialism shown by the Shiv Sena. I had already written an article strongly speaking against this phenomenon but it was not enough! We (My dad and a few of his friends) planned to go to the Kalaghoda festival, an annual open-air art and culture festival and actually hold up posters and protest. (That’s me on the far left of the photo above).
After reaching the Kala Ghoda festival, we saw one of the people in our group had made and got along a small bundle of small posters carried out with captions like: “My name is Khan, My name is Yadav, My name is Pandey, My name is Singh, My name is Mumbai.” And another one said, “Wake Up and Smell the Fascism.”
It was a first for me – protesting in a public space in the view of everyone. I must admit that at first I decided I had nothing to do with all this and felt embarrassed and somewhat annoyed with my dad and asked him questions like “Why do we have to do this?” and “Why is this necessary?” but all he said was “You’ll see.” which made me feel extremely irritated.
But after a while, I relaxed as I saw the effect our small group of protesters was having on the crowd at the festival.
A woman asked us to explain the meaning of fascism to her boy. We told them that fascism was when someone was not letting you freely express your opinion about what you want, what you think and what you feel. (The boy immediately pointed to his mother!)
Another woman wanted to hold up a poster too. She had her kid, a small girl, with her who kept trying to snatch the poster from her saying, “No mamma, don’t do it. They will beat you up too.” The woman explained that the girl had seen the Shiv Sena beating up people and breaking things on TV (which was their way of protesting against the film MNIK). So she was afraid they would do it to her mamma too.
Initially, I was extremely shy and afraid, holding up my poster half-heartedly and mumbling to myself but I soon found the protests getting quite a few positive responses. People were clapping – one old man came and wanted to know if we belonged to an organization and could he join it. Many people asked us if we had a platform they could all join. A group of children who were attending a finger painting class joined us.
Many gave us a thumbs-up. People surrounded us taking our photos.
The positive reactions cheered me up quite a lot. Soon I started giving explanations about this protest to the various people who asked us and I finally started getting into this unusual scheme of things.
People asked us for posters. Some held up posters with us, some wore the protest message on their T-shirts. Some on their backpacks.
We were no longer just the few of us — we had become a big group, so many people had joined us!
We soon ran out of the ‘My Name Is Khan…My Name Is Mumbai’ posters and had to get photocopies done from a nearby shop. My dad drew a few on-the-spot spoofy sketches of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray in minutes with captions like: ‘YOU ONLY HAVE TO SAY ‘NA’ TO THIS MAN!’ and showed them around. The posters were funny, but unfortunately a few people didn’t think so.
Two Shiv Sainiks caught us and asked us why we had put Bal Thackeray’s sketch on the poster and that instead we should have put Shahrukh Khan (‘he is the bigest terrorist’, they said) or Ajmal Kasab’s face instead. They were asking us what Thackeray had done to deserve this. We explained to them that first, this was a non-violent protest. Second, Thackeray’s face was on the poster as we had many grievances against him. Apart from boycotting theatres which released the film My Name Is Khan, we can blame him for:
1. The 1992-93 Mumbai riots (him mainly creating Hindu-Muslim rifts in Mumbai.)
2. The Babri Masjid demolition
3. In 2008, Thackeray wrote “Islamic terrorism is growing and Hindu terrorism is the only way to counter it. We need suicide bomb squads to protect India and Hindus”. Under interrogation, Lt General Hoon claimed, Thackeray instructed him to set up the suicide training camps
4. He boycotted shops and restaurants in 2006 that sell Valentine’s Day items, stating it was indecent and not Indian to celebrate that festival.
5. He stated in one of his many inflammatory speeches that Biharis are an unwanted lot in Maharashtra.
6. His party workers burnt down Singhania hospital.
7. His party pillaged newspaper offices
And many other atrocities…
Need I say more?
After having that short argument with the highly illogical Shiv Sainiks, we took another round of the festival and showed the posters around once again and then got into an argument with the organisers.
“I’m very sorry, could you people stop showing around these posters in this area?”
“Why do we need to do that? After all, this is a peaceful protest!”
“Well, whatever you people are doing is very provocative. We don’t want any such inciting banners or posters over here because after all, this is an art festival.
“BUT ART HAS ALWAYS BEEN ONE OF THE MEANS OF NON-VIOLENT PROTEST!”
“Well, next time you can probably print or stick these on T-shirts, or do a peaceful protest by SMS because that is allowed.
“But we are not provoking anybody, are we? We are just non-violently standing like statues, showing posters around and making a point? Why isn’t that allowed?”
“I’m sorry but please do not do it at this festival.”
Art has always been used as a non-violent means of protest and actively going to a place, holding banners or posters, and simply showing them around creates a much bigger impact than passively inviting your friend to a social networking group or forwarding an SMS which will not make as deep an impact as a poster protest but will also be forgotten. People will at least remember us as a bunch of zany activists making a stand against the Shiv Sena.
Now I finally know why we must actively protest against such regionalist atrocities.