Komakkambedu Himakiran writes a personal essay on his long history of activism, his championing of organic farmers, his views on the current CAA protests, and why activists are an absolute necessity in the current political climate.
“The activist is always below the cause and the cause is always below the people. Activists should always focus on the people. You cannot let the cause become greater than the people.”
I’m from an engineering background, but I have been an activist for the past fifteen years. I mainly work on ecological and agricultural issues, and I give a lot of importance to social justice issues.
I’ve been part of a network called Asha, which is an alliance for sustainable and holistic agriculture, it’s a nationwide group of activists, farmers, and other entities. We’ve protested and stopped the spreading of GM brinjal, GM mustard, and we work on farmer suicide issues and policy issues with the government. We lobby with the government, and present papers and counter arguments to narratives decided by big corporate.
We work with farmers to help them convert to natural farming, and help them process, market and curate their goods.. We worked with the government and we do public campaigns and protest marches, seed festivals and we do a lot of online campaigning on Twitter and Facebook presenting ago-ecological solutions. I myself am an organic farmer, and we present successful case studies on farmer-producer initiative.
I’ve always emphasized on sustainability throughout my career as an organic farmer. Sustainability is not just a one-dimensional concept, it is a blanket term containing about three or four important components. One is to keep your soil healthy and not pollute your groundwater by using harmful chemicals and pesticides. The second is to ensure lower expenses for the farmers so that net income is better. Sustainability is not just for the environment, it is also for the people and consumers. We follow this holistic approach.
One of the main causes that I’ve recently lent a hand to would be the campaign for removing the ban on Jallikattu. I was part of the core team that worked on it for over five years – we aimed to remove the ban. We created the narratives online and offline, explaining to people the relevance and context of it all, making people understand the rural context, and why it was important for conservation of breeds, aggro-ecology and natural farming.
Natural farming can be done only with organic inputs, which can only come from cow urine and cow dung. Only when you have stud bulls, you’ll be able to breed and get enough cattle. All these bulls are given free for a breeding purpose, so someone has to maintain them and keep the pedigree. These events where the pedigree of the bulls are established, they are absolutely necessary.
Most recently, I’ve had the opportunity to observe and participate in the growth of the anti-CAA movement. For us, the backlash and action against the CAA verdict was essentially an organic movement. People didn’t want a law that was fundamentally discriminatory on the basis of religion. People shared information online – we ran a campaign stating why the CAA law was unconstitutional and discriminatory. We organized protests in Valluvar Kottam, a main area in Chennai, and it was happening on almost a daily basis since last week. It was a mix of all crowds, honestly. The proportion of young people and women was much higher here than with most issues, but older people came forward bravely as well.
The reason that so many women came forward was obvious to me. Once they come for Muslims, then they’ll come for Dalits, then they’ll come for women. That’s the essence of Arunachalam and Manodharma. Women obviously don’t want to be treated as second-class citizens. Only in the last 50-60 years, they’ve been able to get out of the house, get educated and pursue their dreams. The system has definitely not a level-playing field for women. Only now the glass ceilings have been broken in a very small way – there’s still a long way to go. The basis on which such laws are brought are the caste and gender-based hierarchy in society, which was prevalent in the past. All these attempts have been nothing more than a way of reinventing these biases for the modern century.
When the fundamental nature of the Constitution is changed just because they have a brute majority, there is no question of calling ourselves democratic and secular. We are not a Hindu rashtra and we will never be a Hindu country, which means when the very nature of what we define as citizenship is changed, what else would you protest for?
You’re essentially saying that if you’re a Hindu, even if you’re illegal, you’ll get citizenship in five years, but if you’re Muslim, you’ll have to wait 11 years – and it’s not even confirmed. The authority with which the parliament, Supreme Court and justices pass laws and read it and interpret it – the powers are vested in them by the Constitution.
Women are coming forward because they know that the game plan is to reinforce the legally mandated gender discrimination. Gender discrimination is already there in practice, but when you give legal sanction to it, there is no question of standing by and saying “It won’t affect me”, because of course it will.
The parliament is vested with powers to pass law, and if those laws are against the fundamental nature of the Constitution, it is for the court to decide if it can happen or not. There is a lack of confidence in the judicial system. It’s never been equal for everybody. If you look at the number of under-trials that have been languishing in jail for a long time – they are not convicts, just innocent till proven guilty, and waiting for their chance to be heard. They are mostly members of oppressed and marginalized communities, and religious minorities. This has never affected the middle to upper levels of communities in the Hindus and Muslims, or the government – a woman from the privileged community, who despite being a liberal or religious, was never affected by this – they have now realized that they will be affected by this very soon.
The enemy decides the weapon you use, that’s the basic principle of activism.
If you look at all these laws, or any government decision not accepted by the people, there’s a huge misinformation campaign that happens on WhatsApp or Facebook and Twitter. It is completely planned and an open secret that the online warriors and trolls of the BJP are active and use personal abuse and now it’s come to the point of making threats over the internet. A lot of activists have also been threatened over phone calls – some have even been killed such as Gauri Lankesh and Kalburgi.
All of them had questioned the male upper-caste oriented society structuring. There are no online and offline spaces anymore, it all merges together. To organize an offline protest, you have to use social media and WhatsApp. To show people what’s happening offline, you have to use social media to spread information on what efforts you have done. If not for social media, people would have not known what happened inside JNU. It has spread everywhere. Our lives have become like that, don’t you think so?
“There are very few people who have the gift of separating their online life from their offline life. Your work, your personal relationships, your friendships and social interactions with friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and general public, all of that is merged. The lines are not there anymore.“
The government is not going to back off. This is part of the long-term agenda for them – to establish that India is a Hindu rashtra. This is their ideology. The foundation is a Hindu rashtra where an upper-class male is at the top of the chain, and everybody else comes at a different rung of the ladder. A tribal woman or a Dalit woman would be at the very lowest level. They put this forward knowing very well that it is unconstitutional. The strength of the protests and the types of people who are protesting – it has taken them aback,and that’s why they are trying to explain things and clear up the misinformation campaigns. If they were confident in their position, they wouldn’t flinch.
The Prime Minister says that the discussion happened only because they have brought this law, and this is why the plight of the religious minorities of Pakistan have come to light. This is really far removed from reality. Pakistan is a Muslim-dominated country, and the world has always known about the plight of those religious minorities. Why would you pass a law treating some of your own citizens like second-class citizens to showcase the plight of another country?
“It’s similar to demonetization – they thought people would welcome such a grand, strategic move. It’s good for movie scripts, but it’s not for real life.”
They were caught on the back foot, and now neither they nor their supporters know why it was started. Similarly, with the CAA, they very well know that it was their ideological moorings that led to this decision. There is a process called othering, where you isolate communities, but for a long time, they’ve managed to make Muslims “the other”. That sells to a lot of their constituents, but it doesn’t work for a lot of other people, as we have all grown up with Muslim friends – so it is just a question of them following a different religion. If I don’t have problems with an atheist friend of mine, then why would I have a problem with this? That is the whole principle of the secularism of the constitution. That is something that they didn’t expect this mindset – they thought they could bulldoze their way. But now, people from elite communities and backgrounds are protesting. It shocked them all.
A lot of youngsters are very socially aware now about issues, and the information is given to them without the filtration by mainstream media. Mainstream media has completely lost its relevance as an information source. It is social media and your own peer groups and network that tell you what happens. People are much more political these days – they are now conscious of their rights, and of the discrimination and injustices that happen in mainstream society. They are also very empathetic to such issues. From my experience, whatever the issue is, if you are working for something – one, don’t work with the expectation that the change that you’re trying to bring will happen within your lifetime. You are only passing it forward.
None of the freedom fighters who fought the British between 1750-1900 lived to see Independence. Most of them were youngsters. If you look at Bhagat Singh, he was only about 28 or 30 when he died. They believed in a cause and fought for it with all their passion and determination. When you don’t have that expectation, your mind is unshackled – you won’t get disappointed with the lack of success or if something doesn’t change around you. They are all small islands in the ocean. Once those islands are connected, it becomes a huge landmass. Two – whatever you work for, there is a cause, people impacted by the cause, and activists.