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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014

Dancing their way into the hearts and minds of people

Zehra Kazmi and Abhijit Patnaik, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, February 14, 2013
First Published: 23:49 IST(14/2/2013) | Last Updated: 23:51 IST(14/2/2013)

A stone’s throw away from Janpath, a crowd has descended on Delhi’s Parliament Street, asking for an end to violence against women.

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But unlike other protests, where slogans or speeches overwhelm, here a group of young people is dancing, cheered on by a large crowd of onlookers and media persons.

“Dance is a beautiful way of getting people together,” says artist Swapna Maini, one of the leading dancers. “Even one person dancing on the street is a big thing.”

A flash mob — random people coming together seemingly spontaneously at a public place to dance — has seen its popularity grow as a platform for protest across the world and in India, particularly in the last couple of years.

If every generation has its own method of protest, ‘cause’ mobs and street dances of today’s Gen Y have taken over from street theatre groups and fasts.

But how far can such gatherings which last a few minutes further a cause?

Eve Ensler, playwright and founder of the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign, hopes that for Delhi, still reeling from the brutal gang rape incident and the protests that followed, the campaign succeeds in “fanning that fire”.

The movement found resonance across the country.

In Kolkata, various NGOs and colleges took part, organising dance performances at Shahid Minar while students at the city’s schools distributed leaflets focusing on crimes against women.

In Lucknow, thousands of dupattas were formed into a chain by participants, who also sang songs and raised slogans.

Bangalore’s famous Cubbon Park saw the city’s women organisations come together with hundreds of citizens to mark the occasion. Similar events were held in Shimla, Imphal, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Jaipur.

The government, sensing the nation’s mood, had hurriedly passed an anti-rape ordinance this month. However, for many, this was still a far cry from the change they wanted to see.

For film-maker Reecha Upadhyay, one of the coordinators of the ‘Delhi Rising’ group, it was all about channeling her anger into something bigger. “I went online and I found others who also wanted to continue the momentum.”

Why flash mobs?
“For any protest to be effective, it must be eye-catching. Something out of the ordinary, otherwise it will not attract attention,” says Kamalini Mukherjee, a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The reasons why such mobs are popular are evident. “The frivolity of it!” says Mukherjee. Upadhyay agrees.

“Dancing is different from the usual sort of depressive marches. You’re out in the street, occupying public space and awaking the world through an act of empowerment.”

At last count, the promotional videos put up by Delhi Rising had garnered over 40,000 hits.

But one can’t help wondering, after the music stops and the dancers go home, does a flash mob count for anything?
(Inputs from Kolkata, Lucknow, Shimla, Imphal and Bangalore)

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