Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The politicizing of protest

Protest has always been associated with those in the margins, those who have no one to speak for them and those who have no one who cares. So much that the word itself has been an anathema for those in power. The simple usage of the word brings about a feeling of enmity and dissociation with what is constructed to be true and right. The word protest has not been in the media dictionary for a number of years simply because it would bring about uneasy and uncomfortable questions for those associated with power, including the various media. The revolution in the Arab world changed all that. The protest there was seen as beneficial to all involved in the quelling of protest till then. From then on the Indian media has also been fascinated with the word protest.

India’s revolution came in the form of Anna Hazare and his media savvy team. Protest in India is clubbed with fasting and non-violence. Both though have attained new meanings. What does fasting mean? No food, no liquids, no non-veg? What does non-violence mean? No manhandling, no physical touch, no destruction to public property? Even as fasting and non-violent protest has gained new meaning, there also has been a change in those who are associated with it. While till yesterday, the powerless protested and where beaten into submission, today the powerful protest and are treated as state guests and fed with public money. Protest has been taken over by the rich and the powerful and Narendra Modi’s fast is another example of that. He maintains that he fasted for the bright future of Gujarat and the good of India. There is no doubt that Modi is a good orator and his speech yesterday would even put seasoned orators and film actors to shame. But does that absolve him of the significant acts of omission and commission that happened during his tenure as chief minister of the state where communal violence led to the killing of many people and brought about a culture of fear in the minds of people?

Will protest and fasting wash away the sins of the powerful? Can these token protests change the skewed system and society that we are a part of? The Jesus of the gospels appears to be a simple man with a simple band of followers, who travelled and traversed, met people, offered them respect, dialogued with them, gave them hope and remained a simple man till his death on the cross. But hasn’t the church and the so called band of followers now hijacked Jesus and put on his clothes of protest and fasting? But does this make us Jesus? The grounding for Jesus to lead mass protest during his time was not that he was a powerful man but that he associated himself with the ordinary people and that gave him the mandate to protest. Protest is not for the powerful. Protest is for the ordinary people. It is their right. A few protests here and there which are held by those who have immense power at their disposal, cannot and will not be considered as true protest because it lacks the main ingredient of protest and that is the helplessness of the people who see protest as their only cross of hope. But we will have to identify true and false protest and make out the sheep in wolves skin. Till then this new found mass (media) hysteria for powerful instead of powerless protest will continue.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

St. Mary and the mystery of the people friendly lent

The church through its decision making and teaching brings out a policy which its members should adhere to. The following of these written and un-written rules is important for one to be accepted amongst the church hierarchy and those associated with it. One of the rules among many to be followed in some cases is the lent and fasts during various times and for various reasons. This becomes a requirement which has to be completed, as otherwise the concerned person will be held accountable by the church.

Among the various lents and fasts that the church requires and asks for are also the ‘nothing official about it’ L&F’s. The eight days lent ending in the celebration of the birthday of St. Mary is perhaps the best example of this. Even though it is not an official lent of the church, people in Kerala and elsewhere find a sense of achievement and attachment in going through the lent. When otherwise people will fast to fulfil their requirements to the church, in this case the fasting is out of one’s own free will.

In an age of Anna Hazare, Jayalalitha, Mamata, Sonia, Katrina, Aishwarya, et all, there is this one woman who time and again manages to make people cry, mend, fast and transform. When we attach ourselves to people who are strong, powerful, educated, and glamorous here is a woman who is none of these in one glance and yet commands the respect and the adherence of millions of people. It may be true that women in the church identify more with St. Mary but that does not mean that men are far away.

Would Mary get so much attention by virtue of being the mother of Jesus? There must be something else which is much more than being the selected womb. Her life in a way suggests the anti thesis of what is right and correct. She was born to her parents in their old age, she starting serving the church in a tender young age, she was betrothed to Joseph who was much older than her, she became pregnant before she was married and had any relationship with Joseph, she saw the future with an older cousin Elizabeth, and she identified the special Jesus at the wedding in Cana. Truly, whatever she did, she did different.

When was the last time we ever followed someone as different as this? Or is it that we don’t know that Mary is so different and radical because she has been dressed up by the church? In the midst of the official, the dressed up, and the hierarchical there lies somewhere the non-official, free and people friendly Mary who the people have accepted as their saint and for whom they are willing to starve and mend their ways. Somewhere lying hidden in the need for personal gains is also the concern for the unseen and the unheard. This is the true people’s St. Mary, offering something new every year.