Protest is protein for democracy, use it generously.
Many times I’ve felt the need to protest against the road conditions and civic apathy in and around Bombay.A bridge collapse here, a wall collapse there, a pothole mishap every now and then, or the chance of involuntary immolation while you’re downing your fifth peg of Old Monk in a pub, chances are aplenty.
I'm not ready for an embarrassing death. Nobody is. Nobody wants to fall in a manhole and die in filth. Every time I ride under Khar subway, for 10 seconds I cannot help but imagine the whole shit crashing down on me. I don't even step out of my house much.
But this protest was mainly about roads, or whatever the corporation tries to pass off as roads, a rare feature that’s sometimes visible in between all the potholes. Maybe not in South Bombay. Last I heard, somebody was trying to get Bombay into the Guinness book of records for the maximum number of potholes.
We have a billion dollar airport and people stepping out of the vicinity should be forgiven if they think they have landed on the moon. Superficial development is not progress. And here we are talking about bullet trains and hyper loops. The right to protest shitty governance is my fundamental right. In this case, it’s a right I have to exercise to avoid going mental traversing the Martian terrains of Bombay.
The night before my planned protest was the night of the FIFA world cup finals. That was also the night Russian punk rock group, Pussy Riot, invaded the pitch in an audacious show of protest against the policies of the Russian government. Needless to say, that display of people power definitely ingrained in me a final dose of confidence. If they could pick on an authoritarian Putin, then I could definitely stand my ground against the richest corporation in the country.
In many ways, protests can be equated to the white blood cells fighting an infection. History has shown its effectiveness; it’s also the little remaining power citizens can exercise to make the government accountable.
The #notinmyname protests forced the Prime Minister, who otherwise chose to remain mum, to speak on the issue of lynchings. The Kisan Long March not only ensured the government’s attention to the plight of farmers, but also intimately wove it’s way into our social conscience. Then there are those protests that gathered momentum but fizzled out without achieving what they aimed for, like the FTII protests. And the biggest of them all, Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement.
I was pissed off to stratospheric levels and just wanted to communicate it to the power that be, through physical presence. I was ready to go on my own but invited friends on social media. Two of them turned up, one was my partner.
I started my social media campaign under #roadtohell encouraging everyone to post photos of bad roads in their neighbourhood. The day before my protest, we fashioned a waterproof banner and it felt like I was back in SUPW class in school.
My protest weapon
I had participated in a few #notinmyname protests. It’s easy. All you have to do is show up, while the organizers deal with the logistics and permissions. I didn’t have the inclination to go about getting permissions to arrange a large-scale protest, which is why I decided to go it alone. Ok so I’m not as gutsy as Rosa Parks or the Tank Man from Tiennaman Square or current protest stalwarts like Emma Gonzalez or Palestinian teenage rebel Ahed Tamimi; but I moved my butt!
The local autorickshaw driver who took me to the Marol metro station was elated to see my banner and gave me suggestions and information.
My friends at the metro station
Then came trouble or just plain bullshit behavior. Mine started with the security at the Mumbai metro station preventing me from boarding the train with my banner that had photos of bad Marol roads along with pictures of the local MLA. For some reason they envisaged that I might do a dharna inside the metro coach. After wasting two hours, I boarded the train after covering and taping my banner with newspapers, which they were kind enough to do. Even though they understood my protest was theirs as well, fear of authority kept them in check. I, too, dialed down my temper for fear of getting into unnecessary trouble.
I let the cover stay during my journey to Churchgate but once I reached BMC, I planted myself on the divider in front of it and passed the first few minutes in unease, conscious of passersby peering at me. Soon, my musician friend Stuart joined me and that's when I started having fun.
Strength in numbers
The public started interacting with us, agreeing with our cause. It was obvious they were an angry lot who had little expectations from the state authorities. From fire fighters to cops and cab drivers to regular office folks, there was a vibe of appreciation. Of course, a lot of people didn’t give a shit either.
For me though, more than sending a message to the people concerned, I didn’t have much expectation. It was about making the public aware about their right to good roads and the right to protest against bad roads.
So on this Independence Day, when freedom is taking a beating like the dhols during Ganesh Chaturthi, remember that protest is protein for democracy. Which is why I downloaded the BMC app where you can register complaints and upload photos of bad roads. The app is sitting tight on my phone, just like a pothole on the road. I haven’t been been able to register on it due to BMC’s server problems. So much for digital India.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com.
By Mohan KK
Photographs by: Mohan KK