Turn of Decade 2010-2019 Society

The decade’s major movements that became strong voices of resistance

As we enter a new year and a new decade, images of incredible courage and resolution are imprinted on our minds. Going to press, the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed National Register of Indian Citizens still rage across the country. Two actions, designed wholly to divide the country along religious lines, have resulted in uniting people in one strong voice that says loud and clear that it won’t allow India’s secular fabric to be rent.

This is the voice of protest. The voice of resistance. The voice that says, enough is enough. And over the last 10 years we saw this voice raised aloud in country after country, for cause after cause.

From the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protesters to the millions worldwide who marched against climate change to the unprecedented citizen protests in Hong Kong, it was the ‘pushback’ decade. Millions took to the streets against Chile’s President Piñera and millions marched to protest China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. Dalits and farmers marched, women marched, Muslims marched, gay people and students marched.

And so, a decade marked by the rise of the Right was also a decade when people fought back. And they managed to make tiny dents everywhere. Some laws were changed, some repealed, some guilty punished, some systems established.

Each protest echoed over and over again that there will always be singing, even in the dark times. Each protest sowed hope. And in the years to come, we will wait to reap it.

When the Arab Spring heralded a heady summer: What started as protests in Tunisia against poverty and an oppressive regime soon spread like bushfire across West Asia to envelop Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. Suddenly, there were street demonstrations, riots and popular uprisings. Authorities attributed the rapid spread of the protests to social media and shut down connectivity in many places. Across the Arab world, the slogan ash-sha‘b yurīd isqāṭ an-niẓām (the people want to bring down the regime) became a catch phrase. In some countries, regimes were toppled; in others, authorities shut down protests with violent reprisals. Large-scale reforms, however, did not ensue as expected. As the decade ends, unrest and rallies continue in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt. The Arab Spring still blooms. In the photo, protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, 2011. Photo: Reuters
The Greta effect: In August 2018, a 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl stood outside the country’s Parliament with a placard that said ‘School strike for the climate’. Within a year, Greta Thunberg’s solitary protest would galvanise millions over the world to take to the streets to demand action against one of the biggest catastrophes of our times: climate change. ‘Climate strikes’ — by young and old — erupted across the globe this September; close to four million people are estimated to have marched. Addressing world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit, Thunberg minced no words: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” she said, in a fiery speech that went viral. Earlier this month, she was named Time’s Person of the Year for 2019 — the youngest person ever to be named so by the magazine. Thunberg, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has said she considers it a ‘superpower’. Photo: Reuters
When the farmers marched: In November last year, around 35,000 farmers from 24 States marched to New Delhi to demand legislation for a guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) and freedom from debts. The rally saw land-owning and landless farmers come together in a rare show of unity that received widespread attention and also support from the Opposition parties. In March that year, some 40,000 Adivasi farmers in Maharashtra walked from Nashik to Mumbai, a distance of 180 km, to demand implementation of a loan waiver scheme, land titles, and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations, among others. India’s agrarian sector has been in a state of flux for a few decades now and the situation has been worsening each year due to a host of reasons, including unpredictable weather, high production costs and inadequate compensation. The crisis has resulted in several farmer suicides over the years, and the two major rallies, and a handful of smaller ones across the country, were desperate attempts to push the government to take welfare measures. Despite promises, however, the farm sector is yet to see radical changes. In the photo: A farmer geared up for the night at Ramlila Maidan during the Kisan Mukti March in November 2018. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma
Uber-rich to uber-angry: As the decade wound down, the world seemed to wind up tighter. In 2019, the stylish and wealthy city-state of Hong Kong erupted in an uprising that’s still burning. It began with the introduction of a bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal fugitives wanted in territories with which Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements, including Taiwan and mainland China. Fearing the bill would allow authorities to deport dissenters and put islanders under mainland Chinese law, students and citizens launched massive marches, blocking streets and facing off with the police. The clashes have slowly become violent, with police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs. The bill was withdrawn but protesters want other conditions met before backing off, including for the protests to not be labelled as riots and amnesty for arrested protesters. In the photo: A tea shop in Hong Kong with a ‘Lennon wall’ covered with Post-Its. Shops that openly support the pro-democracy protests are called “yellow shops” and are winning more customers. Photo: AP
How silent is my Valley: On August 5, 2019, the government revoked the limited autonomy granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir. It also simultaneously bifurcated the State into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. The move was accompanied by massive security deployments and a communication blockade that involved imprisoning prominent political leaders and shutting off Internet and telephony. As this goes to press, leaders are still in jail and the Internet is still blocked. Stripped of connectivity, stripped of liberties, under the constant eye of gun-wielding forces, the ordinary Kashmiri has been rendered voiceless. It’s left to others to record, transmit and protest the unspeakable from the Valley. To point out that the government has behaved like nothing but a brutal occupying force. In the photo: A police officer detains a Kashmiri student outside a Srinagar college on December 17, 2019, where students gathered in solidarity with the nationwide protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Photo: AP
A fight for the Constitution: The ongoing nationwide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) are unprecedented. A spontaneous popular uprising of this kind has perhaps been seldom seen since Independence. The exclusion of Muslims from the Act, coupled with the prospective all-India National Register of Citizens — a sequence of events the Home Minister has reiterated several times — feeds into the Hindu Rashtra dream of the BJP. Exclusions based on religion go against the tenets of inclusion and secularism of the Constitution, and are against the very idea of India. Citizens, led by students, are protesting in every town and city. In UP and Mangalore, the police responded with shocking violence. So far, thousands have been arrested and 25 killed. But there seems to be no stopping the protests now — India has risen. In the photo: An anti-CAA protest in Mumbai. Photo: Vibhav Birwatkar
The face on the wall: An unknown graffiti artist from Bristol was already the talk of London by the late 1990s, but it was in 2010 that ‘Time’ magazine put Bansky in its list of the world’s 100 most influential people, where he jostled for space alongside Barack Obama and Lady Gaga with a paper bag over his anonymous head. He went on to become an iconic figure, converting graffiti from mere vandalism into a politically charged, democratic art form. In 2018, Bansky’s ‘Girl with Balloon’ sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $1.4 million. Just as the gavel fell, the painting slipped out of its frame and shredded to pieces. Bansky had fooled the world again. Challenging authority and notions of ‘high art’, Bansky is a quintessential people’s artist. He said once, “This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people. We need to make it count.” In the photo is ‘Season’s Greetings’, a mural by graffiti artist Banksy, stencilled onto a garage in Port Talbot, Wales in December 2018. Photo: Creative Commons
When Nirbhaya shook the nation’s conscience: In 2012, the heinous rape and murder of a young woman, christened Nirbhaya in the aftermath of the incident, became a watershed moment in how the crime of rape would be adjudicated and perpetrators punished. The country witnessed an outpouring of anguish and anger like never before, as people poured out into the streets in hundreds of thousands demanding justice. The protests forced the government to set up the Justice Verma committee, as a result of which several new sexual assault laws were passed, including a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years for gang rape. Six new fast-track courts were set up. Most important, by bringing the discussion of rape and its punishment into the mainstream, it emboldened more women to speak up. Today, Nirbhaya has become a potent symbol of women’s resistance and their ongoing fight for safety. In the photo, police use water cannons to disperse the huge crowds gathered at Rajpath on December 22, 2012, to demand immediate action against the rapists in the Nirbhaya case. Photo: R.V. Moorthy
Dalit pushback: In July 2016, seven members of a Dalit family who were skinning dead cows were attacked by a group of people claiming to be ‘gau rakshaks’ (cow protectors) in Una, Gujarat. The video of the brutal incident went viral and set off a slew of protests across the State; Dalits came out in large numbers to decry the government’s inadequate response and the discrimination against the community. The largest of these demonstrations was the Dalit Asmita Yatra, led by activist Jignesh Mevani, in which some 20,000 Dalits marched from Ahmedabad to Una over 10 days. They vowed to give up their traditional livelihood of disposing cow carcasses and demanded land from the government. Dalits across the country have been subjected to oppression for decades with hardly any recourse to justice. Their coming together in large numbers and the rise of young leaders such as Mevani and Chandrashekhar Azad in U.P. signals the beginning of a new era of Dalit pushback. In the photo, Dalits protest the Una violence in Ahmedabad on July 31, 2016. Photo: Vijay Soneji
Rise of the Right: The decade saw the rise of right-wing populist political movements around the world, seen as a backlash against the perceived failures of the largely liberal-capitalist world order and the complacence and greed that led to the great financial crisis of 2008. Anger against globalisation, deindustrialisation, immigration and the growing refugee crisis contributed to this extreme reaction in the West, while elsewhere strongmen leaders, muscular nativism and heightened culture wars were ubiquitous features. Leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, with his euroscepticism, his anti-refugee policies and espousal of “illiberal democracy” were harbingers of the trend. Protest votes by this disgruntled electorate played a major role in the U.K.’s Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. Majoritarian sentiment in India saw the rise of Narendra Modi with two thumping election victories that established the BJP as the dominant party. Similar but even more extreme rhetoric and policies found favour in Brazil and the Philippines as well, with the victories of Jair Bolsonaro and Rodrigo Duterte respectively. In the photo: U.S. President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania in 2018. Photo: AP
Right to privacy made a fundamental right: A historic judgment by the Supreme Court on August 24, 2017 made the right to privacy a fundamental right for 1.3 billion Indians. In a landmark case that was debating a 2015 decision on whether the controversial Aadhaar scheme was constitutional, the nine-member bench held unanimously that “the right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty”. Overturning a long-held belief that privacy was the privilege of the rich, but not the concern of the poor, the judgment held that “every individual irrespective of social class or economic status is entitled to the intimacy and autonomy which privacy protects.” The fallout of this milestone ruling will be seen in years to come. For example, the judges ruled for data protection. The ruling will impact how the state looks at unlawful surveillance, illegal data harvesting and more. Photo: Getty Images/ iStock
Across the world, women said #MeToo: The phrase ‘MeToo’ was first used on social media by Tarana Burke when she wrote about the sexual harassment she had suffered. But it was only when multiple charges surfaced against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein that #MeToo became a viral, global trend as more and more women began to put #MeToo as their social media status to show how widespread the menace of workplace sexual harassment was. It led to wide-ranging discussions across nations, forcing institutions and companies to take sexual harassment seriously and establish mechanisms for complaint and redress. Starting with showbiz and media, the movement spread to other industries including music, sports, law, politics and advertising. In India, the movement was spurred in October 2018 when actor Tanushree Dutta accused actor Nana Patekar of sexual harassment, leading to a barrage of charges across professions. In the photo: Once powerful and now disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein (centre) leaves Manhattan Criminal Court after a hearing on December 11, 2019. His case sparked the worldwide #MeToo movement. Photo: AP
A historic judgment for queer rights: In July 2009, when portions of Sec 377 of the Indian Penal Code were struck down by the Delhi High Court, the queer community in India rejoiced. But in December 2013, the Supreme Court overturned this judgment, saying that amending or repealing Sec 377 should be left to Parliament, throwing everyone into gloom. Finally, it was on September 6, 2018, that the Supreme Court gave the historic judgment that once and for all decriminalised same-sex relations. In powerful language, the judgment held such criminalisation under Sec 377 to be ‘unconstitutional, irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary’. The ruling gave a huge boost to LGBTQI+ rights, it allowed queer people to come out to their families, it gave them access to public spaces, it gave them their identity back. It has since opened up possibilities for queer literature, queer lit fests, queer art and more. In the photo: The LGBTQIA+ community celebrates the historic verdict on Kolkata’s streets. In September 2018, the Supreme Court overturned a regressive 158-year-old colonial law that criminalised gay sex. Photo: Ashok Nath Dey
Bhima Koregaon protests and the aftermath: Each year, in a tradition started by Ambedkar, Dalits collect at Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra to commemorate the Battle of Koregaon, when Mahar soldiers of a British Army unit defeated Peshwa Baji Rao II’s forces. Last year, the 200th year of the battle, lakhs of Dalits gathered. Infiltrated by some rogue elements, it soon turned violent. As Maharashtra erupted in protest, FIRs were filed against two Hindutva activists, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, for having incited the violence. Soon, however, a ‘think-tank’ cleared the two men and blamed ‘Maoists’ instead. Police then arrested a series of activists, most of whom work for Dalit and tribal rights, on the flimsiest charges. They were Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut; followed by Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves and Gautam Navlakha. Many of them are still in prison. In the photo: After the Bhima Koregaon clashes, Prakash Ambedkar, leader of the Bhartiya Republican Bahujan Mahasangh, at a rally at Azad Maidan, Mumbai, last year, demanding the arrest of Sambhaji Bhide. Photo: Prashant Waydande
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