Opinion: New-age protests deserve a hug!

On May 2, more than a dozen youths, demonstrated at two important stations of the metro to protest against the thrashing of a couple who were standing intimately in the tube.

Sharmistha Ghosal Published :  04th May 2018 08:00 PM   |   Published :   |  04th May 2018 08:00 PM

Peace offensive was perhaps first used by former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev in late eighties, or by a small stretch of imagination, M K Gandhi about 70 years before him. But this week, a section of Kolkata’s youth reinvented the concept of using peaceful means to deliver an impactful message to protest against moral policing by a few elderly gentlemen in the city’s metro on April 30.

On May 2, more than a dozen youths, spanning an age group from late teen to late twenties, demonstrated at two important stations of the metro to protest against the thrashing of a couple who were standing intimately in the tube.

Kolkata is a city of protests, but it was the language of saying NO that was significant.

The agitators – about 15 of them – hugged one another. Men hugged women, men hugged men and women embraced women. Going a step further, at Dumdum station in the northern fringes of the city, where the couple were manhandled 48 hours earlier, the agitators offered to hug the passengers who were emerging from the tube, and going in as well.

Even the women among the agitators stepped forward and offered to embrace strangers to deliver the message of protest. Some were too shocked at the sudden offer of a hug, while some others gracefully accepted; but the message was effectively delivered. Those who remained beyond the reach of the protesters got the message through the social media and news media.

The agitators coined a slogan #hokalingan, which, roughly translates into #let’s embrace. Some of the placards screamed “I Love Kolkata”.

The indications are clear – the youth are trying to adopt a new language of protest where bloodshot eyes, high decibels, and clenched fists are not required. The chapter was perhaps inaugurated in November 2014 in Kochi when youths launched the “Kiss in Love” protest on the Marine Drive.

As in Kolkata, the engine to spread the agitation, and the language of protest, was the social media. The Kochi protest was organised by a group called Free Thinkers. Though the police swung into action to disperse the agitators, the protesters managed to plant a few kisses.

The Kerala agitators were protesting assault of a few students in a coffee shop in Kozhikode by members of a Hindutva group who did not take kindly to their public display of affection, the same sentiments that prompted the elderly men in Kolkata tube to land blows on the man hugging his girlfriend.

In another incident reported in March this year, two female students posed for the camera with melons and posted the pictures on social media after a professor of Farook Training College in Kozhikode allegedly compared the breasts of his female students to watermelons.

An activist posted a photo of herself with melons with the caption "dedicated to the Farook college professor".

The signs are tell-tale. The protesters are youth, typically from late teens to late twenties, when cynicism is yet to creep in. The language is also non-traditional.

A vast multitude of their comrades have exploded in glee on social media, where the fire of protest in Kolkata raged on. Thousands of youths asked where do these moral policemen vanish when women get raped or have their modesty outraged on the roads.

Yet others asked, why are fists not raised when persons relieve themselves in public. Is the sight of a man urinating on the streets in broad daylight less offensive, they asked.

The questions are pertinent. The language, cool.

As the saying goes,"If you don't rebel in your twenties and conform in your thirties, then something is wrong with you". Let the infectious rebellion chart its own course, albeit peacefully.