Thinking out loud

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Anti-Reservation Protest at IITB

A human-chain protest was held on 19th May, 2006 outside IIT Bombay. The protest was against the hike in reservations in educational institutes in the country. However, perhaps because of lack of police brutality or some such reason, the media did not find it good enough to cover it well. I have put up some photos from the protest at flickr.

Today, students go on hunger strike at IIT Bombay in batches of 24 hours. Will post photographs and commentary on the same soon.

Update: Its 3:30 AM on 23rd May and the hunger strike has been in progress for the last 14 hours. Several news channels have come and interviewed the students and several newspapers have enquired about the details. Hopefully reasonable coverage in tomorrow's morning news. Some photos from earlier in the day now up at flickr.

Update: It's 2:30 AM on 24th May. The Pro-reservation camp has been empty for the last 3 hours now. The government announces its intention to implement its reservation hike by June of 2007. Students in anti-hike camp still battle on. Multiple discussions in small groups. The nerves are strained. Others are asleep of exhaustion.

Update: Its 25th May, past mid-night. Alumni presence was seen today at the site of the anti-reservation hike protest. Mr. Shailesh Gandhi (a very active social activist) spoke at length with the students about what they can do to increase their support base and make their demands more relevant to Indian society at large. Faculty members, although bound by rules to not make statements to the media, made their presence felt at the site. They spoke to students and expressed their support to the cause. There are discussions about the next steps to be taken. Mobilization of more alumni and school students high on agenda.

Update: (25th May, late night) More alumni turnout today. Brainstorming about how to get a reasonable dialogue to start with the government. Proposal to take up the task of gathering data about current situation in the country instead of asking the government to do it. Students distribute thousands of pamphlets at key points in the city, exhorting people to participate in the "Maha-Rally" to take place at Azad Maidan on 28th of May.

News Coverage:
Anti-reservation protest goes hi-tech - Cybernoon
Defiant docs launch civil disobedience campaign - IBN Live
Medicos defiant, set up anti-quota agitation - Hindustan Times
Quota policy triggers diet plan - DNA
IITians, medicos gear up for a long battle - Hindustan Times
Anti-quota stir by IIT enters third day - Times of India
Government to implement OBC quotas by 2007 - Indian Express
IIT face off over reservation - Mid Day
IITians spread anti-quota message in schools - Times of India
Solidarity show: IITians go on hunger strike - DNA
Now, IIT students go on chain hunger strike - Mumbai Newsline

Devil's Advocate: Karan Thapar's interview with Kamal Nath
Devil's Advocate: Karan Thapar's interview with Arjun Singh

Protesting the politics of reservation - Amit Varma
Rashmi Bansal from Youth Curry talks about the "Karan vs. Arjun" interview and more
Rashmi Bansal from Youth Curry analyses the reservation argument
EvenStar wonders when Sachin will go to school
Its the thought that counts, right? - Amit Varma


  • I strongly feel that govt. is trying to suppress these agitations and so asked media to don't cover it.

    Yesterday, The kind of statistics shown by NDTV is also a strong signal to understand govt's stand.

    By Blogger Mentor, at 1:16 AM  

  • Hey Parijat,

    U r doing a good job about spreading thw word on it. I shall circulate ur link to various forums to wider coverage. Let us not worry much about the coverage from media. In fact I see a case of establishing a student network to overcome any such biases of the govt.

    Cheers and keep the MERITOCRACY flag up and high

    By Blogger Bhaarat, at 5:16 AM  

  • well done ! brilliant effort man !

    By Blogger Bombay Addict, at 11:06 PM  

  • Any further updates.....

    By Blogger Bhaarat, at 1:55 AM  

  • We are now talking to faculty to come forward and express their
    support. Most faculty are in our favour... they thought it was pretty
    obvious they are on our side. We are asking them to come and say so to
    the people who are out there in the protest. Positive response from
    faculty so far.

    By Blogger Parijat, at 2:00 AM  

  • Stay strong, stay inspired

    May 30, 2006

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article against reservations and sent it to a trusted journalist friend (TJF). The article was in the form of an open letter to the prime minister. TJF replied that even though the article sounded heartfelt and the arguments were valid, she could not use it. The reason, she said, was simple. She told me a lot of what I was saying had already been said. The case for merit, equality, Indian competitiveness was already out in the open. Her newspaper would not repeat the same argument again.

    'What more do the upper castes want?'

    I took her point and withdrew the article. However, it struck me that in many situations, the media will not cover something relevant just because well, it is not entertaining enough.

    I had a call with another senior journalist friend (yes, I have journalists as friends -- I have no life, I know). We discussed the reservation issue -- on how it was practically more relevant to middle class Indians than any other issue. While the issue does get coverage, it has not ignited minds and galvanised the middle class. Somehow the issue is not getting as forceful a treatment. Fanaa's ban in Gujarat attracted far more media space for instance.

    "The reason quite simply is the lack of a dramatic event. Ten years back, kids were burning themselves. Nothing of that sort is happening now. And the media is so immune now, to get them interested young people need to do more", was what she told me.

    I am not here to do moral posturing. And I do respect her opinion. So I will not go into the "Media these days" rant. I will only take some lessons from a senior person in the media and try to give some tips to the activists to make sure their protests are more effective. After all, the point of making a noise is to be heard. And to be heard, one doesn't have to burn himself -- that is foolish and a one-time flash in the pan. If you want to do an effective protest, learn from the past masters -- and who better than Mahatma Gandhi.

    A lot of rage, a little Rang De

    In photographs, Mahatma Gandhi is a frail, saintly figure. However, what is often ignored is his magical ability to make a point and attract attention. He had no advertising budgets or PR managers. There were very few media outlets then. And he had only one, constant -- freedom. Yet, he dominated media space for decades and ultimately won. There is no reason why we cannot learn a few tips from him, some of which I list below. And you can get these checked by any media professional; they would tend to agree that this is a way to get yourself heard.

    1. Keep a visual -- This is vital in today's multimedia world. Newspapers need to be colourful to compete with television, and a television is not a television without a visual. Gandhi kept a visual -- salt march (everyone remembers the scooping of salt), burning British made clothes, operating the charkha and more. Placards are boring. Do something else -- a huge bonfire, human chains -- be creative, make it easier for NDTV. They will come, I promise.

    2. Emotions more than Reason -- Whenever activists talk to the media, always keep emotions in the forefront. Brooding anger, tears, banging fists is far more interesting than statistics on caste based demographics. Tell people what you think about the issue -- you are on the editorial page. Tell people what you feel about the issue -- you are on the front page.

    3. Intentions more than Action -- This is a trick most used by our politicians even today. In reality, actions alone matter. However, our politicians keep saying 'our intention is to lift the backward castes', and they almost sound reasonable. Of course, the actions only divide the country and kill merit -- but they hide in the garb of purported good intentions. Protestors can do the same. They may be blocking traffic -- but harp on the intentions: 'But this is for Saraswati mata -- knowledge should decide'. (Think about it -- the politicians will be scared to take on Saraswati mata or if you mix any religious sentiment in your favour). Alongside, attack the other party's intentions -- 'they are only doing reservations for selfish political gain' (which is probably true).

    The next partition of India

    4. Don't hurt yourself -- Burning yourself or even hunger strikes are very dangerous tools. There is no guarantee they will be effective. If they don't work, you will be seen as weak. Gandhi used a hunger strike rarely, and only after he had decades of experience.

    5. Find a simple, interesting slogan -- Gandhi always had a simple slogan. It gives two benefits -- one it makes it easier to pass through word of mouth with minimal distortion. Secondly, it fits into the limited headline space in newspapers. In media terms, this is called 'the hook'. The reservation movement has no slogan yet. Find one. My suggestions: "No suck-up politics" OR "India on Merit only"

    The above points are important to make your cause heard. Ignore them and the world will ignore you. Play them right and the media is on your side. Trust me; the reservation issue has bothered a lot of people in the media too.

    I personally feel very strongly against reservations, and I wish the agitators all the best. I give the above tips as my small contribution towards tackling this monumental issue that will take effort from all of us. I am writing this article for an online site so that you can forward it to all friends who feel the same about reservations.

    You are standing up for fairness, God will be with you. Stay strong, stay inspired.

    Chetan Bhagat is the author of the bestselling One Night@the Call Center and Five Point Someone. The views expressed here are his own and does not endorse it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:26 PM  

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