Saturday, June 9, 2012

#OccupyKolkata

I experienced my first protest today. I have loved the idea of revolution ever since History was introduced as a subject in school. Since the Tunisian Revolution and it's carryover effect that spread like wildfire in the Middle East, I have been hooked onto the idea of change and protests and the power of the masses. In the last year and half, I have only been reading news updates about revolutions. #OccupyKolkata was happening in my own city and I wasn't going to miss it for the world. The cause was to promote internet freedom and stop internet censorship by the government. Though it hasn't really personally impacted me too deeply, I know that it will in the future.

I'm trying to start off as a print journalist. But I'm sure there will be a day when I'll be forced to move to online journalism. And when that day comes, I don't want someone to dictate what I'm allowed to write online and what I'm not. The Internet has helped me open my mind beyond any limit. Be it through blogs or news websites or StumbleUpon and the treasures it keeps. And I'm not going to let all that be censored because the government or some other authority can't bear to see negative things written about the system. Someone needs to be the watchdog of society and bring the flaws of that system to the notice of the people. If the government elected by the people fails, the people have the right to know why.

Now let's look at the silent protest that took place today outside South City Mall. Out of the 975 people who said that they were going to attend on the Facebook event page, less than 100 showed up on time. Apparently a lot more people had showed up and expressed interest. But when they saw the police, they disappeared before we could turn around and answer their queries. The police were already there waiting to catch protesters and scare them away. The mall authorities were chucking people out who were carrying fliers saying that protesters were not to be allowed inside the mall. At the bag screening outside the gate, students with fliers in their bag were not allowed to enter at all and the fliers were confiscated. I can't completely blame how draconian this part was because we were on private property. This was something that we should have avoided from the start.

A group of protesters finally gathered and we went outside to get started off. One of the cops approached our group and asked us what exactly we intended to do. Two guys took charge and spoke to them. We got permission to protest silently for 15 minutes by the watch and divide the protesters in a way that it does not gather too much attention at one place.
The cop trying to understand what we were protesting against.
Once he realized that this was against the government, he started taking down the names & numbers of the protesters.
He doesn't look too pleased at the idea of the negative publicity he is about to get, does he?
The protesters discuss the plan of action and split up the group.
Let me look the other way & pretend that my opponent doesn't exist!
A child who might never understand the importance of the Internet & the protest joins in.
Protesters stood their ground.
Very few female protesters were present.
The last man standing. (Notice the Trinamool Congress flag and the cops standing at ease feeling victory was theirs.)
Once the 15 minutes were up, the protesters spoke to some of the mediapersons who had gathered. After this, a bunch of them continued to the EEDF ground nearby to discuss the issue further. Apparently, cops (dressed as civilians) were sent there with a photographer, who started clicking photographs of the gathering against the protesters' consent. Someone heard the cop say "The kids are here. We have identified them. Send backup." And so, the group scrammed and today's #OccupyKolkata event came to a sudden halt.

An alternative method: 
Maybe it's very radical and stupid thinking but there should be a protest like this organized on the sly without authorities getting to know about it beforehand (Is there something like secret events on Facebook that one can invite only people who will be interested to participate in and not tattletales?). Even the media should not be given a heads up. The lady from some channel who was there today was just there because she wanted to get the story out first. I was shooting a video of the interview she was conducting with Sugato Mukhopadhyay on my digicam. She felt threatened that I was from another channel and wanted to use that interview to break news and was extremely rude and pushed me away. 

Sugato Mukhopadhyay's interview (You have to strain your ears to hear it properly)

If we pull this off on a larger scale the next time (for any cause - not necessarily internet freedom), it will give a higher chance of impact. The cops were just waiting there today with orders given to them to permit us with 15 minutes and see where we assemble next. We should not have even told them that we were going to EEDF Ground today. They think we're just youngsters eager to be passionate about something and looking to cause trouble. Let's give the government a real reason to worry! 

What the protesters had to say:
"The problem is that we're looking at the wrong parameters. The Facebook event page has been very active since it was created. But the numbers did not show up. Any support for an anti-system movement is a one click move. The public is awkward about getting into real world activities. 300 people marched College Street on October 22nd for the first #OccupyKolkata movement. We have to build contacts and gather the courage to assemble again and more often." -Sugato Mukhopadhyay, protester 
"I'm a little disappointed by the turnout. But I am glad that at least some people showed up. The cops were cooperative. They told us to do what we felt right except shouting slogans, blocking pedestrians and causing a ruckus. The head inspector gave us 15-20 minutes to do what we had to do." - A protester who chose to remain anonymous
(This post got featured in Anonymous India's official statement on the 9th June pan-India protest for internet freedom)

9 comments:

  1. There indeed is a a 'Privacy' Option while creating an 'Event' on Facebook. You can choose the said event to be Public, Friends Only or BY INVITE ONLY.
    And I can totally understand people being reluctant once cops get involved. I have been in couple of protests here in Mumbai.. and if they identify you as 'organiser' or 'volunteers', then you are in for some pretty nasty harassment.

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  2. I would say you people should have met at some public place with prior permission of protest. Just as it was done in Mumbai.

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  3. nice posting.. thanks for sharing..

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  4. Proud of you Rohini... Always had this craving to join such protests... wish I get my chance...
    It is indeed sad to see people not turning up as promised... Well, when the time comes, everyone chickens away... Bad !
    Great Experience :)
    Keep posting...

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  5. when an honest protest that doesn't have any political agenda, is organised it will reach only this level. I am glad a common man stands up for his needs. Unless political backing comes i dont think Internet freedom is possible.

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  6. your doing a great job ...... I will probably join int the next protest.

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  7. nic posting..thank u sir for ur contribution..i am waiting for the next campeign..:)

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  8. WE CAN join more people in next campeign,,,,,,,,,,,,

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