Why I loved the Anti-AFSPA protest in Shillong

On 16th November 2015, I went to take part in the protest march called by the Garo Students’ Union (GSU), Thma U Rangli-Juki (TUR), CSWO along with a few other activists from Meghalaya. I went not because I was instructed to by ‘party high-command’, not because I was threatened or coerced by anyone: I went there because, firstly, I don’t want the introduction of AFSPA in Meghalaya (nor anywhere else for that matter); secondly, I do not believe in AFSPA as a law in general. However, the main reason why I went was because in the aftermath of the two brutal horribly-handled debacles which had occurred in the past few weeks – the Synjuk Rangbah Shnong episode, the Kiang Nangbah incident – I personally felt that this was, in a sense, a wonderfully apt method by which I could protest police brutality and its institutionalisation. In a way, one could see the anti-AFSPA march coming from miles away, especially in the wake of those horrible tear-gassing and lathi-charging fiascos, but in another sense, the march was anything but reactionary.

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Firstly, the thing that struck me the most was how many students there were at the march. I actually enquired into this from the participants. In jaded, politically-contrarian Shillong society, we have somehow managed to “outsource” our political responsibilities into the hands of the sengbhalangs (pressure groups). Many of these it is sad to say, have no rights being called students at all. In a wonderfully refreshing manner, the protest march on the 16th was formed and led by young (dare I say, educated?) people. Additionally, what was great to see was the number of women who decided to take part in the event (bring on the “reverse sexist” charges!). This just highlights another failure on the part of Shillong-centric pressure groups: their inability to involve women in their work. Of course, maybe the female members of the GSU might not have equal access to leadership positions, decision-making etc but it’s a huge progressive step to involve them in the first place. They cannot be congratulated enough.

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The entire march was very well managed from its start to termination; it ran like it had been rehearsed the day before. The volunteers organised the energy of the crowd well and directed it into aggressive slogans and chants but without anyone losing their cool completely. The volunteers made sure to patrol the outer line of the marching crowd, giving out instructions and directions at every possible instance. This method was something quite novel actually. I suppose it was why there was no confusion and subsequently no violence. At the venue, the crowd amassed and equivocally challenged the hated AFSPA and the toe-stepping Judiciary. No one was drunk or difficult and the volunteers even tried to clean up afterwards. This seems to me the best instance of a public protest that I have seen so far in the capital.
It may, of course, come to pass that one day the same group/collective(s) may end up doing something completely foolish and unnecessary, these things happen and will continue to happen but as I write this, the 16th of November 2015, will always have a distinct memory for me because of its uniqueness, because hope showed up that day.

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Avner Pariat Written by:

Avner Pariat is a poet and chronicler of Khasi Jaintia Hills.

One Comment

  1. Leon
    December 1, 2015
    Reply

    I was there and I marched with the protestors from Fire Brigade to Secretariat. I showed up of my own volition after hearing about a possible AFSPA in Meghalaya. I have heard of the abuse of power that comes with its imposition, of Irom Shamrila’s struggle and horror stories of murder and abuse from friends from states where it was imposed and I don’t want it here.

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