Citizen Activism that is missing from the Wrestling ring

Context: Over the past four months, a few nationally acclaimed wrestlers have been protesting against their federation chief, a strongman politician, who they accuse of both misusing his authority and of sexual harassment. Citizen Activism:
  • The spurt of ‘citizen activism’ we saw a decade ago in the Nirbhaya protests and the Anna Andolan was nowhere to be seen.
  • This brand of activism was what steadily gained currency post-liberalisation, particularly through the spread of television and social media.
An evolution from the Nehruvian era:
  • The middle classes retreated from active civil society participation from the Nehruvian era onwards, as they assumed control of the power networks within the state-centered political economy. 
  • Meanwhile, civil society came to be hinged around the framework of “segmental loyalties”, which the social-anthropologist, Ernest Gellner, held to be an inescapable fate of the ‘civil’ space in all traditional, heterogeneous societies.
  • While some scholars have taken the preponderance of caste/community-based organizations to claim that the country effectively lacks a modern civil society, others have appreciated the role of these organizations in aiding democratization and exemplifying the “modernity of tradition”. 
  • “In India, religion, caste, ethnicity and language have been effectively mobilized in articulating and representing group identities and interests,” as Sarbeshwar Sahoo wrote in Civil Society and Democratization in India (2013).
A ‘changing Indian sensibility’:
  • In a recent paper, the political scientists, Aseema Sinha and Manisha Priyam, have framed the dominant political discourse as more of a demand-side phenomenon, reflecting the “changing Indian sensibility, especially among India’s professional and middle classes.”.
  • We must remember, the activism of these organizations is also weighed down with inherent limitations.
  • Hence, the broad political support commanded by them in certain political contexts should not be seen as an automatic function of stable bonds of programmatic solidarity.
  • The state of the wrestlers’ protests clarifies the need to look beyond the superficial, celebrity-dependent model of civil society activism. 
  • It is also a reminder that only a democratic process of building durable, programmatic solidarities can become truly capable of transcending the social ceiling of “segmental loyalties”.
Source: The Hindu
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