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Wrestlers’ protest and the shrinking space for dissent

This article delves into the dynamics of class politics and polarization within Indian society. It specifically highlights the recent case of wrestlers protesting against sexual harassment and the insufficient support they received, underscoring the wider implications of this issue. (Source: The Hindu; 13.06.2023)

What is the context?

Public protests in India have played a pivotal role in driving social and policy change, empowering individuals and communities to voice grievances and fight for their rights. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that the nature and response to protests have undergone significant changes over time. Furthermore, this article delves into the contrasting impacts of protests under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the current Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Moreover, it examines the recent case of wrestlers protesting against sexual harassment and the limited widespread support they received, offering insights into the intricate dynamics of class politics and polarization in Indian society.

From Nirbhaya to the Present: A Catalyst for Change

  • The 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape case led to widespread protests, prompting the UPA government to address sexual violence through policy reforms.
  • Comparatively, recent protests by wrestlers demanding justice have faced minimal response from authorities, showcasing a failure of the institutional system.

Limited Support for Wrestlers’ Protests

  • The wrestlers’ protest has received limited support from civil society, including worker, farmer, women’s, student, and youth organizations.
  • In contrast, previous protests against sexual violence gained substantial public support, especially from middle-class and women’s groups.

Challenges and Opposition Faced Under the Current Regime

  • Protests under the current government are often labeled as ‘anti-national,’ discouraging activism.
  • The perception that the government is unresponsive to protests can lead to a sense of futility.
  • However, it is worth noting that the government has been forced to address specific protests due to political expediency. This is clearly demonstrated by the withdrawal of controversial farm laws and amendments to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).

The Context of Class Politics

  • Women’s groups, except for Left groups and the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), have been largely absent from the recent protests against sexual harassment.
  • The previous protests witnessed broader participation from both women and men, representing various sections of society.
  • The wrestlers’ lack of support relates to class politics, disregarding traditional wrestling and their modest economic backgrounds.

Middle-Class Activism and Polarization

  • The middle class played a key role in social activism during the Anna Hazare Andolan and Nirbhaya protests.
  • Their support often hinges on issues directly impacting them, neglecting the struggles of disadvantaged classes and communities.
  • Self-focus perpetuates inequality, hampers addressing social issues, and limits understanding of marginalized voices and social realities.
  • Moreover, polarization reinforced by majoritarian politics further deepens societal divisions and significantly impacts public perception.

Normalization of Patriarchy and Sexual Harassment

  • Middle-class activism often prioritizes issues directly impacting their own interests, which leads to an inadequate response to patriarchal norms and sexual harassment.
  • Consequently, the absence of public pressure to hold perpetrators accountable reflects the normalization of such behavior within society.

Conclusion:

The evolving nature of protests in India showcases the intricate interplay between social activism, class politics, and polarization. However, while historical protests have resulted in significant policy changes, present-day demonstrations face challenges in garnering widespread support. Middle-class activism often neglects marginalized groups, contributing to ongoing inequalities. The normalization of patriarchy and sexual harassment poses obstacles to effective solutions. Embracing intersectionality and comprehending wider social realities are vital for fostering inclusive social change and amplifying marginalized voices.

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