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Naming the Protest

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Any action against the establishment—ideological, political, literary, or social—that finds its collective articulation in the form of protests always goes for a toss, implying multiple, perhaps intersecting, meanings/naming or attribution; which often are mutually exclusive. For example, the protest at Shaheen Bagh for some seems to carry many meanings in the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests that are taking place in many parts of the country. The protestors themselves have put into such protests the normative meaning of inclusive citizenship based on constitutional principles. It is, perhaps, due to the universal thrust in the meaning that the Shaheen Bagh protest has acquired the strength of a proper noun, which thus motivates others to adopt it for naming the protests that are happening elsewhere. Thus, Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh as a proper noun has become Shaheen Bagh in Kolkata, in Mumbai, or in Lucknow. Physical sites of protests thus become an adjective, while Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh protest becomes a proper noun. It is the moral quality of the protest that has made its replication as a proper noun possible. The Shaheen Bagh protestors, arguably, have adopted the most universal self-description, that is, that they are “Indian constitutionalists.”

However, such naming also has both internal as well as external difficulties that deny such protests their independent moral standing. For example, there is a negative portrayal of such protests by those who seem to be on the side of the project of homogenisation of India. These opponents seem to be using often-repeated strategies to defame and discredit these protests. As a part of the politics of discrediting the dissenting voices, the supporters of the ill-thought-out policies of the ruling government seek to bracket even the liberals’ voices within the logic of being anti-national. These opponents, with the help of some media agencies, widely circulate among their supporters images such as those of protestors with a “skull cap” or particularly of left activists with a jhola hanging around the shoulders. The use of such external symbols in the politics of defaming can be understood in terms of these opponents’ inability or unwillingness to intellectually engage with the protestors’ normative appeal. Symbols are outer cultural expressions of the essential core, which is the universal principle. Moreover, what is important is to look at the inner universal core of the protestors rather than their outer expression. But, the opponents chose to focus not on the substance, but on the outer form.

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Updated On : 14th Feb, 2020

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