This evening, a series of protest marches will be held simultaneously in over 10 Indian cities to protest a spate of mob lynchings, including the recent stabbing death of teenager Hafiz Junaid inside a Mathura-bound train near Delhi.
It all began with a Facebook post by Delhi-based documentary filmmaker Saba Dewan, who was calling for a protest on a series of lynchings in different parts of India. So far, citizen protests have been planned in Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Mumbai, as well as London, Karachi and Cambridge. The protest in Delhi will start with the gathering offering condolences to the families of Hafiz Junaid and Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer who was lynched by cattle vigilantes in Rajasthan in April. It will be followed by music and poetry performances by the likes of Rabbi Shergil and Maya Rao.
HuffPost India spoke to Dewan about why she decided to start the protest, how it went viral and what they mean.
When did you feel the need to organise this protest?
Over the past few years, as one was watching and witnessing the systemic violence that is being unleashed on Dalit, Muslims and minorities, there was a rising sense of disquiet about what the hell was happening. There was discomfort that the government has chosen to stay quiet about the attacks on Muslims. In some ways, you become complicit in this violence by keeping quiet. I didn't want to be complicit in this. I wasn't a part of this. I am an ordinary citizen. I have never done street-level protests.
We wait for an eternity for someone to protest, but we are the citizens of the country and we have a stake in it.
Yet, the tipping point came with the lynching of Junaid. The first lynching in 2015 shook us up. Over the last two-and-a-half years, lynchings were getting normalised and that was frightening. But Junaid was just a child. He was 15 and got killed by a mob near Delhi, my city. It was shattering. I was upset that evening and kept wondering why someone wasn't starting an organised protest so that I could join it.
We wait for an eternity for someone to protest, but we are the citizens of the country and we have a stake in it. We had no idea how this would grow and pan out. I just asked some people on Facebook if we can do this protest. The response was very encouraging.Then someone suggested we make an event page. The next morning we realised that this was going viral.
What do you think about the government's silence on the issue?
Through the protests, we are taking responsibility as citizens of the country. We are not silent, we are protesting, speaking out loud. We are protesting by saying that these lynchings and systemic violence are not in our name, demanding that this government is duty bound to protect the life and integrity of this country and all its citizens and the the fundamental rights of the Constitution. The right to life is a fundamental right.
We are protesting by saying that these lynchings and systemic violence are not in our name, demanding that this government is duty bound to protect the life and integrity of this country.
The mobs have a sense of impunity because they can think they can get away with it. That culture of impunity has to stop. The government has to issue strict orders that the targeted violence of minorities and Dalits will not be tolerated.
Why did you call it 'Not In My Name'?
It came instinctively. It is an old slogan and rallying cry from the anti-Vietnam war movement from the US in the 1970s. It has been part of a public consciousness. It is an assertion that I don't agree. I am not a part of this.
How did the protest spread to 11 cities? Did you expect it to grow the way it did?
When I first posted on Facebook, I was talking in terms of an immediate protest in Delhi. It spread to several cities within the first 24 hours. On Sunday, some people in Trivandrum contacted me and said it as okay if we use the name. Orijit Sen designed a poster which is being used everywhere. Since then, people have been writing in, asking for posters. Even as we are speaking, cities are being added.
Orijit Sen designed a poster which is being used everywhere. Since then, people have been writing in, asking for posters.
It is now beyond my wildest expectations. I can't explain it. It is heartening and gives so much hope. There were so many people feeling as distraught at the hatred, violence and all of that which seems to be gripping India. it is a narrative of love and coexistence and secular values.
What are you expectations from the protest?
The outcome is the present moment. We were quiet till the other day. Now there are many cities which are holding protests. There is a certain visibility of citizens who believe in the values enshrined in the Constitution, human dignity, secularism and basic decency. It is a very different discourse that has taken over. There is a collective ownership of the protest. The process has begun and people are saying what we earlier only said amongst ourselves and not on the streets: that the discrimination and violence are not in our name and we condemn them.
The entire list of #NotInMyName protests can be viewed here.