In the past two weeks, the city of Delhi saw the rise of a mass movement of agitation and protest against India’s controversial new law, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). This movement also reacted strongly against the proposed National Register of Citizens which the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah promised would eventually be implemented across the country. In many of these cities, students were the torch-bearers of these protests. Not long after it became crystal clear that a large section of the populace, especially the youth, was extremely dissatisfied with these decisions by the Indian government, violence broke out primarily against students at Jamia Milia University in Delhi, a premier, sought-after institution for humanities in the country. Reports began to pour in of instances of extreme police brutality against the rising protesters, not only in Jamia, but also in other institutions as well as outside colleges and universities. A large part of the student fraternity, not just in Delhi, but all across India, took this to heart and attempted to take a peaceful stand against what they believed was a clear instance of abuse of power.
This article is not meant to be an analysis of the Act or the social implications that follow. More able people have done it, and I feel no need for me to add to them at present. What stood out to me, though, was how largely mainstream pop culture was being co-opted to make a point about how problematic the Act was, or why you could never justify the violence against students.
A big criticism of my generation, the millennials, has been our unhealthy obsession with binge-watching, and a subsequent laziness to do anything else as a result of that. It is often perceived as a valueless activity, because all you are signing up for is your entertainment. More often than not, you will sacrifice either sleep or studies to watch the next episode of your favourite show on Netflix or some other streaming website.
This month, however, not only did students take to the streets, often in defiance of the wishes of their parents and relatives, but they also synthesised their image of being slaves to digitalisation along with rebellion. They proved that they were never really glued to the television for the sake of it. Rather, they were constantly learning what was better about the rest of the world through these shows. They formed better ideals of what was socially acceptable, and decided to carve a narrative that argued for more equality. To be fair, this change has been occurring for a long time in social media. The passing of this Act was the nudge that propelled even those people who would otherwise rather not speak their minds to take a public stand for what they believed was the right thing.
The biggest example of this was how many people drew parallels between the current government and the attitude of the erstwhile headmaster of Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. A few pages from the book were mass-shared on Instagram and Twitter, when today’s teenagers, who may not have felt politically charged before the violence, realised that fictional ideas could still have possibly real-life origins. Memes took the front when it came to creative ways of taking out frustration. “Ok boomer” spread like wildfire, when our generation was trying to bridge the gap between their elders and them when it came to truly understanding the government’s intentions. ‘This episode of Black Mirror sucks’ was too close to home. ‘Orange is the New Black’ had become an apt phrase. And, since it was Christmas time, Mariah Carey and vines from a time gone by (Merry Crisis) decided to feature into the parade. This author’s personal favourite was one that drew from one of those HBO shows. Staying true to the graphic novel, with the yellow and black template, a poster said, “Who watches the watchmen?” I blame myself for letting pop culture necessitate my need to be political, and not have it be an organic process. I also credit it in the same vein, since there wasn’t really an organic process to begin with.
Why do we leave out the ways in which pop culture betrayed this generation? Twitterati took nearly all of India’s film industry to task for not using its influence to say anything about the protests. Most notably, Ranveer Singh was a major target, since he played the lead role in Gully Boy - a movie that was about a marginalised person trying to escape his reality by forging a new one through rapping about his struggles. Shah Rukh Khan, who is an alumnus of Jamia Milia University, met a similar plight. Actors were accused of not having any spine; those who seemed ‘woke’ on the surface through their movies but took a selfie with current Prime Minister Narendra Modi became a symbol of shallowness in the eyes of many.
My generation is often called the most depressed set of people to exist. It seems like every concern they have ever had about work, society, themselves, their careers, their grades, has collectivised together to make known to everyone that the government is to blame for much of it. This is not to say that they may be entirely wrong, either. Unsure job prospects, a disgusting lack of reverence for the humanities that also manifests itself in ad hominem jibes about people from supposedly ‘anti-national’ but surely excellent institutions like JNU, passage of oppressive bills like the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, and the general treatment of marginalised groups do not provide any kind of conducive environment for positivity on the part of India’s youth. An escapist resort from the pressures of this world then becomes pop culture - a feel-good substitute for the real world. Of course, with time, pop culture has begun to mirror society more and more. Yet, we still feel that we can treat movies and shows as they are, and not as something that affects our environment beyond what is on the screen.
Unfortunately, the mirror does exist. This article may not have been the need of the hour, because in the grand scheme of things, it feels unimportant to discuss pop culture. However, it has definitely been one of the ways that people used to make aware to others around them the true impact of the government’s actions. It became a common language to understand something so big, and then eventually be the platform for educating oneself more about the happenings in the country. Even beyond Delhi, the protests are getting worse and people need help. The truth is that the revolution was televised and it’s an episode every day.
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