On July 1, 2017 a gathering of citizens congregated at the Valluvar Kottam monument in Chennai, India, in solidarity with the spate of demonstrations across the nation condemning the rise in instances of mob lynching and violence that disproportionately targeted Dalit and Muslim citizens for beef consumption. The protests were triggered by the murder of 16 year old Junaid Khan by a train mob. Since July 28, peaceful citizen gatherings have joined a wave that attempts to call out government silence, and thereby perceived tacit complicity, regarding the actions ofGau Rakshaks and other vigilante mobs that engage in lynching with a strongly communal or casteist skew. They have been collectively termed as #NotInMyName protests, alluding to the argument that these murders occurred in the name of the cow and in the name of Hinduism.
The #BreakTheSilence protest in Chennai was organized by a group of concerned citizens who called themselves ‘Citizens for Peace, Justice and Democracy’. The protest sought to redress the silence of ordinary citizens against acts of majoritarian violence by providing a space for citizens to gather and voice their concerns. The call of the protest was to break this silence and to protest against attempts to criminalise and deprive individuals of their right to life, livelihood and freedom of belief granted by the Constitution of India. The use of #BreakTheSilence also allowed for the protest to become a space for voicing concerns beyond the lynching of Junaid and articulated through posters, slogans and songs.
The cow was a significant symbol in many posters and slogans, and reflected critiques levied against violence committed by vigilante groups following issuance of ordinances by Central and State Governments. This critique was also bolstered by posters and slogans making specific reference to the lynching of Junaid and list of lynching victims. Simultaneously, the cow and the lynching served as segues into broader critiques of majoritarianism, violence and politics of hatred. Other concerns seen in the protest posters and slogans included critiques of violence meted out to the LGBT community, farmer suicides, unemployment and broader critiques of the Modi government. Further, the inclusive space offered by the protest was highlighted in the diverse performances ranging from paraiaatam (a genre of music that gains its name from a drum made of cow-hide) which also drew on the cow as a symbol, to renditions of Tamil and Urdu songs written by Bharatiyar and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, poetry readings in Tamil and English, speeches and readings from B.R. Ambedkar’s work.
While the protest was envisioned in solidarity with the others across the country, it offered a unique critique of the central government from Tamil Nadu. Alluding to the state’s trend of not allowing parties at the centre to win in state elections for decades now, the sloganeering was of strategic use. Led by students from local colleges and enthusiastically joined in by the crowd, it became an opportunity to remind the BJP regime that any attempt at imposing policies that worked in other states would not yield support in Tamil Nadu. Declaring aloud that this was not Uttar Pradesh or Gujarat, the protesters utilized this demonstration as a space to stress upon this distinction while criticizing majoritarian imposition.
The protest saw between 600 and 750 people at peak time who gathered to #BreaktheSilence and voice their concerns against the rise of majoritarianism and politics of hatred in the country.