India’s fashionable young are beginning to show their outrage. But there is something comic about it
India’s fashionable young are beginning to show their outrage. But there is something comic about it
IN APRIL, after the rape of a foreign student by a group of her own male friends, fight-back.net, an online activist group, issued an SMS: ‘All rapists are hereby warned that they will face severe consequences if they fall into our hands. From now on it will be an eye for an eye. We are also going to campaign for the death penalty, life imprisonment and solitary confinement for rapists. We will hunt you down, punish you and socially ostracise your family. If you are a potential rapist, it would be better if you castrated yourself on your own, we don’t guarantee a painless surgery. Please forward, specially to all male drinking buddies, male college friends and men who leer at you, waiting.’
Post 26/11 and the Ram Sene attack on women, you can throw a dart at a crowd and hit an activist confused about both his message and his audience. Can you really sensitise anyone by blowing a whistle at sexual attackers, as was suggested by Harish Iyer, founder of Sita Sena? “After 26/11, a lot of groups came up, but little has come of it because people don’t know how to mobilise, and there’s no real ideology,” says Chandni Parekh, a social psychologist. For the record, these groups included One Million Strong for Bombay, and Mumbai Magna Carta, which wanted to declare Mumbai an independent state with presidential elections, special taxes, and a 360-ft statue of Shakti of Mumbai, a new age city goddess. Well…
THE SOCIAL AMATEURS
they’re pissed off and want to do something about it, dammit!
On the night of 26 November last year, 29-year-old Harish Iyer, a creative head at an event management company in Mumbai, had just boarded the train home after work when the compartment suddenly began to resound with talk—word had filtered in about the terrorist attack. Harish got down at the next stop and took a taxi to the Taj Mahal Hotel, the scene of the action. He found it cordoned off. He didn’t know why he was there, except that he was impelled to do something, to act. Reluctantly, he went home and once there, remained still, doing nothing for half an hour. He then switched on the TV, and the thought of doing something—something—began to surface all over again. He switched on his computer, logged on to his blog, and started writing. He wrote that he was collating information about the attack. Those who need any information should contact me, he added. He also sent emails and SMSes saying the same thing. The response was almost immediate. Over the next couple of days, his phone didn’t stop ringing. His emails became chain mails and were so popular that they were going round and coming right back to him. He started a new blog called mumbaiterrorhelpline.blogspot.com. Harish says, “The only way I could vent my frustration was through the blog.”
A couple of days later, there was a mass protest at the Gateway of India. Harish was there again with a paper banner saying ‘Hugs for Peace’ stuck on his T-shirt. The area was packed with thousands of angry young men and women, but the number of those who came forward to hug him was barely in double digits. And then, a few young women asked him whether they could do what he was doing—offer free hugs. He agreed and suddenly the whole world was interested in hugging. By the end of the day, he says, they must have hugged thousands of people.
After a few weeks, Harish again decided to do a ‘Hugs for Peace’, but this time in Vashi, Navi Mumbai. He informed at least 2,000 contacts in his email list. Just one turned up, a friend. But that did not deter them. They hugged each other.
Harish Iyer is your Angry Young Urban Professional—your Angry Yuppie. But with a rider. He is doing something about it, even if it does not always translate into success.
Angry yuppies have always been around, but lately they are feeling compelled to do something about their anger. Sometimes, to their surprise, their rage works, like the Pink Chaddi campaign, which was an idea of 29-year-old Delhi journalist Nisha Susan who was outraged by an assault on young girls in a Mangalore pub by a Hindu right wing organisation called Sri Ram Sene.
Nisha started a Facebook group called ‘Consortium of Pub going, Loose and Forward women’ and a thousand people signed up. Two weeks later, the number was a phenomenal 50,000. And “when 50,000 people support you, you feel you can do anything”, says Nisha. They asked members to send pink underwear to the Sri Ram Sene, and the stunt was resoundingly successful. Nisha thinks that there are many specific social issues waiting to be fixed, and then there are things that go beyond specific issues like the absence of a sense of humour. “It seems like we are all sitting around waiting to be offended, waiting to embrace dogma,” she says. “Either you are enraged by nothing or everything.”
But almost predictably, now that the chaddis have been sent, the momentum has petered off, despite the organisers searching for new causes. It’s difficult to keep the yuppie interested beyond one-off activism.
The Chaddi campaign, though, is being commercially exploited. Luke Sequeira and his event management company created One Night Stand, a call-out to people everywhere to party for a cause. The presumptive ‘purpose’ was to show partygoers’ collective defiance of the Ram Sene and its henchman-in-chief Pramod Muthalik. The company’s Mumbai event received widespread coverage, with one national daily even covering it on the front page. But folks who showed up at the venue got what you get on any weekend night in a popular bar: alcohol, loud music and self-conscious people. “I know it’s not radical, and we are not expecting to change anything , but we’ve managed to generate a lot of noise and visibility through the idea,” says Sequeira. And that was the idea.
the system is deemed faulty but a system it is
There is, of course, self-centredness to this anger. The issues which move the angry yuppie—terrorism, attacks on pub-going women, blatant miscarriages of justice in urban centres, reservations in higher educational institutions like IIMs and IITs—are those affecting him or her. But the rudest shock comes when a personal experience shows them how vulnerable they are when they run up against that system for which they have such benign contempt.
Saugata Chatterjee had been in Bangalore for more than 15 years. A senior executive with an infotech company, he and his friends often met at a pub on Fridays. One such night, the women among them had just emerged from the pub when a car almost hit them and then abruptly came to a stop. They instinctively shouted at the driver. The men in the car came out and before they knew it, the bewildered group, including their men friends who had joined them, were being assaulted. They were also being abused for not being “sons of the soil”. The police arrived and took Saugata and his friends in a police van like criminals; the assaulters followed in their car. In the police station, when he wanted to lodge a complaint, Saugata was told that he would have to do it in Kannada, a language he did not know. Because they had had some beer, the police also tried to make it out to be a drunken brawl. Saugata noticed that the police were familiar with the men who had assaulted them and later found out that the driver of the car ran a gambling den in the vicinity. A woman in his group who knew Kannada insisted on lodging the complaint. The next day they again had to spend hours at the police station. The men who beat them up, meanwhile, are still free.
Angry yuppies usually have no idea how to work the system. But they try, often frustrating themselves in the process. Neha Bedi spends half her monthly salary feeding stray dogs and has been visiting the Crawford pet market in Mumbai for five years. The pet market is an unpleasant place, especially for the fauna. There are blind birds, bunnies sitting in their own urine, plucked chicks, baby squirrels sold for Rs 15, even albino animals that shouldn’t be sold at all. But it was only this February that Neha decided to take action. On one of her regular trips to the market, she came across an injured cockatoo, white and pink in its splendour. While cockatoos have vibrant personalities, whistling, hooting and interacting with passersby, this bird sat quiet—something was wrong with it. Neha called a handful of animal rights NGOs with varying acronyms to rescue the bird, but no one helped.
A sympathetic listener gave her an idea, though. The common man doesn’t get answers, she said, but the press does. From then on, Neha portrayed herself as someone writing an article in The Hindu. Within an hour, she had a senior member of an NGO calling her. “I don’t think it was genuine concern that prompted their call, as I have been to their animal home and it’s an offspring of the pet market, as appalling,” says Neha. The next day, she received a call from the police.
“The inspector said ‘Madam, I’m here, are you coming?’ I was confused. He was waiting outside the pet market to enter and arrest the bird shop owner with me. I told him to go ahead and give me the update on the phone. The police found the bird. The shop owner convinced the inspector the bird was well looked after. The inspector informed me there was no law preventing animals who required special care from being sold. I gave up after that, as I knew I would only get hurt. To some extent, I am helpless and my hands are tied.”
But sometimes upmarket rage does find justice. The Priyadarshini Mattoo case is one example. Mattoo, a law student, was raped and murdered by Santosh Kumar, the son of a high ranking police officer. A student, Aditya Raj Kaul, who had just done his 12th standard board exams in Delhi, having nothing to do in his spare time, started an online petition seeking justice for Priyadarshini. Thousands supported it. An NGO contacted him and soon a movement called ‘Justice for Priyadarshini’ got moving.
“Within two months, the CBI asked the court for an early hearing and the case got moving,” Aditya says. That October, the Delhi High Court sentenced Santosh Kumar to death. “The ones who came out for the protest meetings were mostly young professionals under the age of 30—a group which wanted to vent its anger at the injustice in the Mattoo case,” says Aditya. But when he looked for the same support while starting an agitation for Kashmiri Pandits, he found the enthusiasm wanting. Unless they are emotionally affected, you would find it tough to get a yuppie to your meeting. “The way the media projects something therefore becomes very important. Besides, you have to take care of things like not holding the meeting on weekdays,” he says.
THE CYNICAL LIMIT
the idea is to stir people up who may quietly be rolling their eyes
The angry yuppie’s favourite hate object is the politician. In the mammoth protest meeting at the Gateway of India following the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the brunt of the fury was squarely towards a) Pakistan b) politicians. It’s ironical because this is a class which is cynical of even voting during elections, as India just saw. Prashant Nanaware, who is an outreach associate for Jaago Re, a campaign launched by an NGO Janaagraha to get the youth to vote, has found in five months of campaigning that the response of the 18–39 age group is emotional yet lazy: “Many youngsters are willing to register online but not ready to take a 15-minute detour to drop off the form at the local electoral registration office. They want a solution but are not willing to undergo the process of finding a solution.”
But some intrepid professionals are braving their way into the political process. Consider, for example, the Professionals Party of India, a fledgling outfit which is just testing its fingers in the waters of Indian politics. The party’s agenda is to create a ‘vote bank’—that much reviled term mostly used for ‘people like them’—out of the Great Indian Middle Class that global marketers have been sucking up to. The idealism can sometimes be amusing. During the question-and-answer session towards the end of a party meeting in central Mumbai in early February, a young girl dressed in red took the mike and asked the gathering, “How many of us think we are free?” The audience, made up of mostly the middle-aged, didn’t like being spoken to as school kids and refused to provide the resounding echo the angry yuppie was looking for. But she wouldn’t let the mike go. Snide comments, exhortations to come to the point, calls to let the mike go… all followed, but she stayed put. “How many of us think we are truly truly free?” she repeated, her voice ever more demanding. Finally, exasperated, the audience started mulling Yeses.
Sandeep Gupta, the 32-year-old head of the Professionals Party’s youth wing, said that after he joined the party it took some time to get used to the cynicism he encountered among the public. But he was clear about the future. “We have many young professionals with us. During one programme in Pune, we had people coming from faraway places like Delhi, Mumbai and even Hyderabad. They want to be part of the political system. It’s just a matter of changing that mindset—which is going to happen.”
It is possible to override the cynicism even if there is no gratification at the end of it. Take Neha, the graphic designer who couldn’t save the cockatoo. A few months ago, she was stuck in a traffic jam at Worli when she heard the siren of an ambulance three cars behind. It was obviously an emergency. She noticed a cop standing ahead, too busy talking on his mobile phone to notice the siren. She started to honk incessantly, hoping to catch his attention. “Let it be,” said Neha’s mom who was sitting next to her. “You don’t want to do anything, that’s your choice. Don’t stop me,” replied Neha. But did the honking lead to the policeman doing anything? “Well, no,” says Neha, “By then the traffic light had changed.”