–Abhishek Thakore is a movement builder from Mumbai who currently runs the Blue Ribbon Movement
For several years now, a group of Mumbaikars have been opposing the construction of a yard for Mumbai Metro in the Aarey forest.
They are not against the metro itself, but the choice of locating the yard in the middle of verdant greenery that is known as the “lungs of the city”. The group is small in numbers – nothing can be too significant in a city of 20 million people, anyways.
Over the years they have been battling in the courts, carrying out local actions and actively promoting this cause. They have been patiently keeping the hopes alive and taking up the battle with MMRCL, the organization deployed to build the metro.
As an ordinary citizen, this may not matter much to you – a few thousand trees lesser in a city already going into dumps is hardly anything much. Moreover, you may not even be the user of the metro or live anywhere close to Aarey.
Yet, there is a case for supporting this movement.
Vibrant democracies are not created by political parties that act responsibly or a parliament that is actively legislating on issues that matter. These are good expectations to let go of, anyways.
The key to healthy democracy is active citizenship – citizens who are engaged in matters that matter to them. It is in constantly negotiating with the state for interests that we keep the machinery alive and responsive to the larger needs, beyond the once in five years show called elections.
Today, citizen movements in India are few and far in between. We as the middle class are satisfied with Uber discount codes and the latest on Netflix. Funding for movements has also been constrained in direct and indirect ways by the government. Directly by stricter FCRA regulations and indirectly by becoming an NGO itself (you can donate to several government schemes and get tax exemptions plus digitally signed letter from the prime minister).
In such a time, the few movements that exist are like a flicker of light in the darkness. They carry the hope that citizens still matter and can influence policy through collective organizing. It is these movements that are making democracy real in the country.
How do you support such movements? Support doesn’t necessarily mean that you become an active volunteer in the movement. But being totally unaware and indifferent isn’t an option anymore either.
Between these two extremes is the idea of “solidarity”. This is the possibility of supporting a cause through small actions – sharing articles, speaking about the issue and donating (time, energy and money) to the cause. Solidarity with movements like Aarey is very doable and not a tall order at all.
In doing this we are essentially flexing our ‘citizen muscles’. Keeping them toned and fit is a good idea in the long term as governments keep changing and administration can be rigidly indifferent to the people who it is meant to serve.
One way to look at the failure of our cities and governance is the failure of citizens to hold its government accountable. We have the government we deserve, and we have the broken down cities that we deserve.
In supporting Aarey, we learn a little more about how the political process works and how it can be influenced. We step out of our bubbles to look at what is going on with the city. We learn to care.
To that extent, it is a worthwhile exercise, even if it fails to create the tiniest dent on this maximum city.