Meet India’s new-age radicals

An anti-rape protest in Delhi. (Virendra Singh Gosain/HT file Photo)

Afroze Sahil, 25, a tailor’s son, has seen the shenanigans of political  parties up close. Originally from Champaran, “where bullets fly more than in Wasseypur”, he came to Delhi in 2005, studied in Jamia, joined the Campaign Against Bribery in 2006 and became a full-fledged RTI activist since the 2008 Batla House encounter.

For Sahil, that was a turning point: “The public said it was a fake encounter, politicians said something else. I filed 4 RTIs about it. The Delhi Police did not reply, the chief information commissioner asked AIIMs to give me a copy of the postmortem report and then took back the order. My father asked me not to be a hero and come home. I decided to stay put.”

“Any kind of peaceful protest is an expression of anger against the ruling establishment. Corruption and atrocities against women have made a large number of educated youth take to streets, but what is important is have these protests led to any positive change?” asked Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, former union minister and senior leader of Lalu Prasad’s RJD.

While ideological, the new-age radicals are wary of joining any political party. “The youth are apolitical when it comes to parties, but not when it comes to taking action,” says sociologist Shiv Vishwanathan.

“They have seen Mamata, Mayawati, and other so-called people’s politicians and mainstream parties fail, and so they have taken the position of critics. They now want an overhaul of all existing structures.”

In fact, many of them are even questioning the educational institutions where they study. Maitryee, a JNU student, who works with garment workers and intervenes in their labour issues, said, “Our courses teach us how to be a good bureaucrat, they make us detached, see people as ‘objects’ of study. I started to think, ‘Where’s the difference between a student and a worker? Both our lives are precarious’.”

Ankit Sharma and Bhumika Chauhan, both students from middle-class families, became radicalised while covering Operation Green Hunt – the government’s offensive on Naxalites – for Correspondence, a group that documents and photographs popular movements.

“In my 2nd year at IP College, there was huge mobilisation after a sexual harassment case. But you go to the national commission for women and police headquarters every day and nothing comes out of it,” said Chauhan.

It was only after she started interacting with some Leftist groups in college that she realised that “politicisation could not be limited to one protest… I had to demand everything and get involved in everything.”

Their protests are also being determined by bread-and-butter issues, or simply a need to be heard. Pramod Naik, a 20-year-old Thane resident, recently joined the Yuva Sena, the Shiv Sena’s youth wing.

“I belong to a typical middle class family. I know what we face while trying to fix even a minor problem in our area. In Mumbai and Thane, if you need help, you go to the Sena,” he said, adding that joining the outfit has opened up many opportunities for him.

“A political party does give you a milieu,” said Paresh, 25, an assistant professor with Delhi University. “A party emerges when people realise their unity while taking part in movements.”

The recent radicalisation, said Yogendra Yadav of the Aam Admi Party, is being spearheaded by youth wanting to transform the system rather than reject it.

Unlike the Mandal protests, which were led by upper-caste, upper-class students demanding something for themselves, the recent mobilisations are not self-serving. “These are youths extending their own selves to demand things for a wider public,” he said.

Inputs from Vaishnavi Vasudevan


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