“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals…”
-Tommy Lee Jones (as Agent K) in Men In Black (1997)
On 16th December, 2012, humanity was ravaged at the heart of the nation. An innocent girl, perhaps whose only mistake was getting on the wrong bus, was savagely violated at the hands of Calibans. The country rose in rebellion, with protest marches being held at various cities. Men, women and children alike gathered. Children, for whom the word “rape” was a taboo in their households, joined in the collective mourning consciousness of the country, where our pledged sister was violated. I, too, took part in one such march, that was held from the Esplanade metro station to Birla Planetarium, on the 22nd of the same month.
A decent crowd had gathered there by the time I reached (and I imply that decent was the number of people, nothing more). College youth had organized this stand for justice, and were trying their best to orchestrate this crowd into a queue. I meanwhile wondered why a loudspeaker was blaring at the point the march was supposed to start, and I checked, hoping for a speech being given by a man still on the show window (and not bought!). Well, fact is indeed stranger than fiction, for a song was playing beside a magician performing tricks the infant PC Sorcar would have scoffed at. What shocked me more as that, at a candle march pleading justice for a violated woman, this song had promiscuous lyrics objectifying the feminine mind, body, and spirit.
With drooping shoulders I joined the drooping soldiers. I could see young men and women on the phones, threatening their friends that they’ll leave should they not come at the earliest. I felt nauseated, wondering what the girl then suffering in the hospital would think. Gradually, the crowd grew, along with the organizational glitches of the suffering college kids. Put enough educated persons together, and you’ll get a good old mob of imbeciles. The sophomoric community had gathered at a place of protest – a recipe for disaster.
Somehow, the dedicated organizers had managed to bring about a semblance of a queue. I guess that just like there is a law of conservation of mass and energy that decrees that mass and energy can never be created nor destroyed, there is a law of conservation of chaos and anarchy. As soon as the ‘sophisticated’ crowd was aligned, a sophisticated band of misfits decided to light some effigies on fire, for reasons unfathomable. After hours of waiting, the crowd finally began to move.
To my shame, I realized that was supposed to be candle march but I failed to possess a candle. T then saw some urchins carrying candles for a sale, at a whopping thirty rupees a piece. The nouveau riche did not bother about how much these kids were over quoting; Facebook DPs of the candle march required candles, they figured, and nowadays the number of ‘likes’ in the adolescent jargon and on the pictures are competing neck-to-neck. I decided to carefully observe the little business these kids were conducting. To my horror, they were begging candles from those who had brought them, and then selling them to ignorant buyers. Well, be it a war or a protest march, the smart businessman is the sole winner.
I got angry at how insensitively these kids were behaving – to use a person’s guilt at not having protested earlier so that the young girl had better laws protecting her. As a wise man had said, this guilt principle is the same as that used by beggars outside the temple. Morals and beauty are wasted on a hungry man.
My eyes were open for signs of protest and awareness in this protest and awareness campaign. The plebeians had phones bigger than their hands and smarter than most of them, on which some ran an application that created a sign saying “Stop Rape”. The others had phones obviously not designed for them, on which they took pictures of themselves with a candle in hand which they just lit for the two or so seconds they took to take the snap, after which the candle was nonchalantly blown out, ironically symbolic of their momentary illumination. After some walking, I could hear gradual chants of “We want justice” and their louder chants of colorful language by the frustrated drivers whom we had blocked.
Herd mentality is engrained in human nature. I had finally managed to procure a candle from a friend I met but, seeing the people around me not light theirs; I didn’t do so either. Everyone waited for that one person to light his or her candle, but enlightenment evaded us all. The poorly crafted placards that some hapless souls had brought were now safely folded away. What was supposed to be a march to spark a revolution in women’s safety boiled down to a badly chosen ‘adda’ spot for the youngsters. Boredom set in, and it could be clearly seen from the eyes of the crowd.
The familiar dome of Birla Planetarium mad me, shamefully, sigh with relief. Then I saw people lighting their candles, and so I lit mine. OI was hoping to find a place where the now thousands of protestors could place their candles. To my shock, a policeman grabbed the candle from my hand and blew it shut, saying that no such place existed and the now twenty thousand participant of this candle march will have to run home that instant as the traffic could not be blocked any further. The candle march came to an unceremonious end for me, that instant. I’m yet to see how it differed from an evening stroll. I guess my companions would not have been this bored at a stroll.
At the end of this candle march, I had expected an invigorated mind, and rejuvenated values. I wanted my belief in the society strengthened, in that thousands of people wanted to stand up for women’s rights even today. Now, years down the line, I ask – what have we done about the violation of that girls, except attend these pointless candle marches and update statuses on Facebook? I am as guilty of inaction as the Government which we vehemently intended to protest against. Most of the people who appeared at this candle march took the whole incident down in ‘good spirits’ days later at New Year’s Eve. Till date, we have been silent; attended the candle march in the evening and went nodding our heads to watch “Dabangg 2” (a classic hit from the Indian film industry reflecting our “class”) next morning.
“All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.
-Walt Whitman, ‘I Sit and Look Out’.