Liquor is banned in my state, Gujarat. Why? Because it is the land of Mahatma Gandhi. Going by that logic, given that Gandhiji was a preacher of non-violence, shouldn't violence be banned in Gujarat as well? I've also been thinking recently about the fact that we think that a society, state or country is always for the people and not of the people. But more on that later.
It was business as usual in Ahmedabad on 25 August, when chaos took over the everyday bustle of the city. A rally organised for the granting of OBC status for the Patidar community quickly escalated into violence, leading 9 deaths in the city. Over the course of the day, there were lathi charges, police vans were set on fire, buses and other vehicles were pelted with stones. A police station and the house of a senior leader were also set on fire.
Curfew was declared.
I was awake the whole night, sitting in my hostel room, 1200km away from my home in Ahmedabad. I texted my parents and friends to ask about their wellbeing and to tell them to stay safely indoors. Meanwhile, to keep harmony in the state, mobile internet services were turned off in many parts of Gujarat.
"These protestors live here. They use the roads, conveniences and government facilities here. Yet they thought nothing of destroying the infrastructure that sustains their city. "
At the centre of this storm was Hardik Patel, the 21-year-old fiercely driving the agenda. I wondered how this diminutive-looking young man managed to bring the entire community of Patidars to band together in support of his cause. But that is something for others to analyse. I don't even want to get into the cause itself either: I respect people for their choices in life. If they believed this quota was necessary for their betterment, they had a right to put forth their demand.
But the way which they chose to voice their concerns was unacceptable and condemnable. In just eight hours or so, they caused serious damage to my city, to its citizens. What added salt to this wound was the fact that these marauders belonged to the same city, and many of them were educated and relatively affluent too. Yet, here they were, members of the most well-to-do community of Gujarat, willing to destroy the city for the added advantage of OBC status. Some of these people were my old friends, stridently arguing to prove their point. They were willing to do exactly what an unknown young man, barely into his 20s, was telling them to do.
These protestors live here. They use the roads, conveniences and government facilities here. Yet they thought nothing of destroying the infrastructure that sustains their city. They didn't care if they damaged roads, houses, vehicles or if they injured or killed people. After all, they had a point to prove.
Were the policemen on duty responsible for granting the OBC quota?
Was the bus that was set on fire authorised to give acceptance?
Did a victory lie in disrupting the lives of ordinary citizens?
The only thing the agitators truly accomplished was disturbing the peace, causing upheaval in the lives of their neighbours, friends and co-citizens and causing a vibrant city to grind to a halt. Are they happy with what they see now? Broken glass on the roads, scorched buses, injured people - some of them they've known for years. The thing people forget is that it's far easier to destroy something than build it back up again.
"We believe that it is the establishment's responsibility to look after us, but we don't see any need to give anything in return."
Will the supporters of such destruction walk around the city with their heads held high?
I doubt it. Because to some extent they too know that what happened was an outcome of madness, temporary insanity, herd mentality. But even if they acknowledge this, it won't change what happened.
The rally may have united a large section of Patidars, but it alienated them from everybody who wasn't aligned with the "cause". Our society is a diverse one where the neighbour of a Christian is a Jain, and the family friends of Marwaris are Guajaratis. Gujarat is not made up of just one community, and that is what the protestors forgot.
What was brought into sharp relief was the fact that many of us believe that society is not something we need to guard. We do not see it as something that belongs to us and needs to be taken care of, just as much as it takes care of us. We believe that it is the establishment's responsibility to look after us, but we don't see any need to give anything in return. And until we realise that a society, state or country is of the people and not only for the people incidents like this will continue to happen.
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