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Bengal artistes condemn NRC, say protests will have to go on for long

Music director Debajyoti Mishra hoped that one day fresh political leadership would emerge from the mass movement around the country.

Music director Debajyoti Mishra leading a song of protest

Roushni Sarkar

Artistes from Kolkata held a march from Priya cinema to Menoka cinema on Saturday 18 January to protest against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the forthcoming National Population Register (NPR) and the proposed National Register of Citizenship (NCR).

Music director Debajyoti Mishra, theatre and film actor Anirban Bhattacharya, and filmmakers Anik Dutta and Supriyo Sen, among others, took part. “I feel marching peacefully singing songs is a form of protest and has to be sustained," said Mishra. "Success is not important at this moment. This fight has to go on for a long time and we have to incorporate as many people as we can.”

Mishra led the marchers in singing songs like ‘O Alor Pothojatri’, originally composed by Salil Chowdhury, ‘O Amar Desher Mati’ by Rabindranath Tagore, ‘We Shall Overcome’ and many other popular resistance numbers.

While on the one hand continuous protests have erupted around the country, the Delhi police have been granted emergency detention powers under the National Security Act for three months, in an order issued by the lieutenant governor of Delhi.

Speaking of the development, Mishra said, “Whenever there have been protests, the rulers have tried to choke the voices. We have evidence of such incidents in the past. It is unfortunate that we have been compelled to come down to the streets, but there is no other way now.”

He said the common people of the country could lead this movement further. “Who knows, one day a political party can also be formed out of this mass movement. There is no doubt that we need leaders and it is essential that the leadership comes from a left-leaning ideology. I am stressing on leftist ideology — I feel the collective movement by so many people in itself is a leftist movement. Leftist ideology doesn’t necessarily determine association with a political party, it rather governs the way of life.”

Mishra described himself as a leftist but not necessarily a follower of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Actress Saayoni Ghosh among the marchers

Actress Saayoni Ghosh, too, felt that in the current situation, coming out on the streets is the most important initiative. “We do not have control over a lot of things around us, but we must exercise our right to protest in a democracy," she said. "Three hundred and three members might take a lot of decisions in Parliament, but when so many people come down to the streets, then there must be some serious reason for that.”

Condemning the use of the National Security Act in the national capital, Ghosh said, “We are gradually losing all our rights in a democracy. A few days ago, our state government used section 144 to stop pro-CAA rallies. This is not how a democracy is supposed to work. The central government doesn’t know the idea that India stands for.”

She was, however, confident that gradually each home of the country will awaken in protest.

National award-winning independent filmmaker Supriyo Sen said that though most of the protests are not being held under specific political banners, the common people have their own political stand, which the parties sometimes reflect and sometimes not.

“The time has come when we cannot depend on any political party and hence we have come to the streets," he said. "It is quite clear that people are not ready to accept decisions taken by a political party which has a majority in Parliament. I think this widespread protest has positive significance. In independent India, instances of such spontaneous mass movements are rare. Mass movements alone can save the core values of the Constitution.”

Regarding the use of the NSA in the national capital, Sen said, “We know the ruling government is fascist in nature and such initiatives are to be expected. Therefore, in the process of fighting this government, a lot of lives might have to be sacrificed and many of us will go to jail as well. We have seen how a specific community has been targeted for atrocities in Uttar Pradesh. They will not grant us peace soon. Hence, more people have to be there on the streets and voice their protests peacefully, because they cannot really detain crores of people.”

Supriyo Sen and Anik Dutta marching with protestors

Anik Dutta said that while there have not been many unified protests, yet all the protests are making their mark. “There have been certain changes in the procedure for the NPR," the filmmaker said. "The enquiries on parents’ birthplace and date have become optional. This is the consequence of this collective movement against this discriminatory act inside and outside the country. The government has become a little defensive. We have to go on fighting.”

Interestingly, Dutta, maker of Bhooter Bhobishyat and Bhobishyoter Bhoot (2019), had had to face the wrath of the West Bengal government for criticizing the Trinamool Congress, which is the ruling party in the state, in his film.

“We have voted one fascist party to power," the director said. "At the same time, we must not forget that there are many other small political parties with such tendencies. While the central government is openly backing one particular religion, with their particular philosophy and ideology, there are many other political parties that are manipulating the minorities for their own interests.”

Dutta said such appeasement politics is a big reason for the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party. “They should be identified too, as it is because of them that the ruling party is getting an opportunity to instigate the majority,” he remarked.

However, he said he remains hopeful as students have shown the way to identify these opportunistic political parties. “It is not easy to manipulate students," he commented. "We have previously voiced our concerns through discussions and posts on social media. But the students have shown the path to resist, despite getting mercilessly beaten up. We have not been beaten up, but we should definitely show solidarity with them.”