Symbols of freedom beyond the Tricolour

In ‘1984’, George Orwell, describing ‘DoubleThink’ as an extension of the all-controlling party’s ‘Newspeak’ doctrine, cites an example of a phrase used to brainwash the populace: “Ignorance is strength.”

The ‘Thought Police’ of ‘1984’ are not strangers in many of the world’s modern democracies. But, every time an establishment is associated with a surfeit of will to control, it creates a profusion of fighters. And every generation of fighters embraces its symbols of freedom.

On January 14, the Bengaluru police booked a suo motu case against unknown people. Their crime: Anti-CAA graffiti. Among other things, the art work asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resign, said no to CAA and NRC. There was also a “Free Kashmir” graffiti.

The suo motu action came close on the heels of members from a right wing group painting Saffron on the shutters and walls on which the graffiti was made. This group then painted pro-CAA slogans. Before initiating the action against the unknown graffiti artists back at the Cubbon Park station, the police also covered the graffiti in paint.

The unidentified persons were booked for defacing public property and if the police were to extend the same logic, a case ought to have been booked against the members of the right wing group, whose act, accompanied by sloganeering, has been caught on camera. But there is no case against them.

While all this happened on Church Street, in the heart of Bengaluru’s Central Business District (CBD), a group of girls belonging to an art school in Yelahanka, some 20km from CBD, were verbally abused by a group of men. These men were led there by BJP MLA SR Vishwanath.

The bone of contention: Graffiti showing Modi with a finger on his lip, and captioned “Sab Changa Si” (All’s Well). The police got involved in the issue, but there was nothing formal in this case.

As my colleagues put together these two stories, I recalled multiple other walls that I had seen graffiti criticising the government. The number of such places that I’ve notice has been increasing — I spotted three artworks other than the Church Street and Yelahanka ones just today.

In the dark of the night, the young are scribbling away their thoughts, establishing a new symbol of their freedom, in search of what they believe may be “Light”. They are saying that they will not be herded, and that they want to have a say. They are enlightening others, telling them ignorance is no way.

Whether what they believe is right or wrong, they must be allowed to think. They must be allowed to speak, and act. It is their right to disapprove, as is everybody else’s right to disagree with them. But an organised attempt at quelling their spirit will, as has been witnessed in multiple cities in India in the past month or so, only see more joining their ranks.

The Indian freedom struggle saw the birth of several such symbols, from Satyagraha and Civil Disobedience to eventually the Tricolour that officially represents the country today.

And as India — a significant part of the country — churns again, some of these symbols are re-surfacing, while some news ones are getting added too. There are symbols beyond the Tricolour and patriotism is more than “unthinking obedience” to the ruling!

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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