Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2020: Give youth a chance

At a time when most opposition politicians have been made conspicuous by their absence, youngsters across the country have risen to protest the CAA-NRC. From innovative signs to patriotic songs, they’ve proved to be a more obdurate opposition to the Modi-Shah government than any political party so far.

With national flags and constitutional readings, they are pushing back against the government’s ‘protesters are anti-national' narrative.

A day before Republic Day, Zee JLF hosted a session with four unique youngsters each of them trailblazers in their own way. The only person missing from the panel was an individual who could perhaps explain the current dispensation’s popularity among the youth.

Hosted by Pragya Tiwari, the session involved Angellica Aribam (former NSUI General Secretary and founder of NGO Femme Foundation), Varun Thomas Mathew (author and advocate), Pallavi Raghavan (historian and policy expert) and Rafiul Alom Rahman (founder of The Queer Muslim Project).

Smashing patriarchy in politics

Angellica Aribam revealed how her political career meant that she had to make some tough sartorial choices (ditching t-shirts and shorts) and went on to explain how she had encountered deep-seated patriarchy first-hand. She explains how even during political meetings, women are expected to serve men during lunch breaks. She also adds, perhaps unsurprisingly, that sexual predators remain rampant, at times reminding you of their presence with a lingering hug. Around 52% of women, she added, faced verbal or physical abuse from their own party members.

Speaking about the barriers faced by women in politics, she cited the lack of a proper structure within political parties. She also noted that while there were reservations in panchayats, the lack of reservations in higher political levels meant women would remain under-represented.

The Queer Muslim Project

Rafiul Alom Rahman explained how minorities were always gripping with various identities. He reveals – heartbreakingly – how his landlord refused to vouch for him because he was Muslim during a standard check. On the other hand, an angry cop – upon learning his queer identity – changed his tack and stopped treating him like a threat.

He added that he was surprised by the Modi gov’s sudden lack of concern for Muslim women. A government which went hammer-and-tongs after triple talaq suddenly fell silent when it came to listening to the women of Shaheen Bagh and other places in India.

He also explained how his agency The Queer Muslim Project was looking to give queer Muslims a space they might not find in either the mainstream queer groups or within the community where they are told that queerness is ‘haram’.

Historians turn relevant

Meanwhile, Pallavi Raghavan noted that she was fascinated given that there was such a sudden interest in historians and the NRC-CAA protests among other things made it seem like history was being written in front of her eyes.

She went on to explain the Nehru-Liaquat Pact which was enacted on both sides to protect minorities.

There was a recognition of the problems being faced on both sides. In a sense, Pallavi added, it was a way to recognise the problems faced by South Asia’s minorities and made India and Pakistan legally bound to each other.

The Lawyer Who Writes

Meanwhile, lawyer/author Varun Thomas spoke about the obfuscation that has become part of the legal system and his own battles when trying to explain the inadequacies of Aadhaar to the Supreme Court. Thomas stated that attempting to explain that biometrics would fail when poor workers’ hands – with lacerations due to lifting stones – faced sub-standard technology fell on deaf ears. He noted, with some shock, that instead the SC judgement began with a WhatsApp forward: “Being unique is better than being the best.”

He also added how 75,000 tribal people displaced by the gigantic Sardar Patel statue were offered jobs cleaning toilets for the tourists.

His desire to write fiction stemmed from a need to be heard, because fiction breaks barriers that non-fiction can’t.

Policy space – still unfair for women

Pallavi Raghavan noted that a woman in the policy sphere was still rare, even though lots of young women were entering the space. Pragya Tiwari added an interesting interlude, notingt that as of now, whenever a policy was tabled, one only wondered how it would affect men, not women.

Pallavi added that more women being involved meant there would be different questions but noted that men would always just need to turn up.

Idea of India

Finally, Pragya Tiwari asked what the idea of India meant to each of the panellists.

For Rafiul Rahman, it meant ‘diversity’ -- the idea that everyone was different. For Varun, the idea of India was the privilege to remain ‘undefined’. Angellica felt that it came back to the Constitution and the right to question one’s government, while for Pallavi it was a loosely held string, which the first constituent assembly deemed should be left alone.

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