Subscription Subscription
Home > News > Opinion News > Article > How to back protesters meaningfully

How to back protesters meaningfully

Updated on: 01 March,2024 06:53 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

Standing up for a cause takes a heavy economic and emotional toll on champions of justice. One wonderful thing a sympathiser can do is to show up and contribute their bodies to a sit-in

How to back protesters meaningfully

Dr Ritu Singh, who has been protesting for months against her illegal termination from her position as assistant professor at Daulat Ram College in August 2020. Pic/X

Rosalyn D’MelloI have an on-demand wish list of all the things I would do if I were in Delhi for a day. I managed to check off quite a few of these during my recent fly-by-night trip. However, at the time, I was unaware of something ongoing that I would have liked to have been a part of. I would have gladly been part of a sit-down with Dr Ritu Singh at the Arts Faculty of Delhi University. There are many reasons for me to admire her, among them being her having acquired a doctoral degree in psychology, a subject dear to my heart, and a profession I was on the verge of choosing for myself. Beyond that, her resilience. Ritu Singh has been protesting for months against her illegal termination from her position as assistant professor at Daulat Ram College. She had been selected in 2019 for a temporary vacancy reserved for the Scheduled Caste category, I read. She was terminated a year later, in August 2020. She is demanding that the principal, Dr Savita Roy, be held accountable for caste discrimination. Ritu Singh is committed to her quest for justice while maintaining that this is an issue that affects us all. Justice, for her, is a community goal. Through social media, she has been instrumentalising her struggle to call attention to the deep-seated casteism that has historically afflicted education in India.

The backlash she continues to face only serves to bolster her case. I read about people sprinkling cow urine and gangajal to allegedly ‘purify’ the protest space, a practice that attests to an inherent regressiveness in Indian society. The gates of the university were locked to keep her out—I mean, how literal can casteist gatekeeping get. Through it all, Ritu Singh has maintained her faith in the constitution, written as it was by the stalwart, Dr Ambedkar

Across the distance I follow her to see how the protest is shaping, how it is expanding and shapeshifting to accommodate greater dimensions. I wonder if I would have had the kind of courage she clearly has. For so many people, courage and resilience are not options, they are the only available paths of resistance against oppression, against the silencing and the marginalisation of one’s voice. I think of these abstract virtues as invisible weapons that embody a battalion of sorts. The state as institution tries to counter their force through various forms of violence. I see the images, for instance, of all the complex machinery being put in place to prevent farmers from entering Delhi and I am flabbergasted by how the state is setting itself up against its own people. There is a clear-cut absence of any kind of listening energy.

It costs a lot to protest. There are actual economic and emotional expenses that the protester must bear. There is a loss of income that often continues for as long as the act of protest extends. There is a loss of energy that might be invested in the act of living. There is a sudden precariousness that enters one’s body. You have to bear in mind that you might be handled roughly, even abused by the very police forces that are meant to protect you. To protest injustice is to really confront the visible and invisible threats to your existence. You have to wrestle with seeing first-hand evidence of how much you are resented and by whom. Your whole life becomes a cause and you have to bear the burden of ensuring your cause doesn’t get effaced, doesn’t get appropriated by or subsumed into other causes. This is why one of the most wonderful things an ally can do is to show up and contribute their bodies to a sit-in. If I were in Delhi right now, that is what I would do, show up and be present, even if only for an hour, or a day. Because I know in my heart that it matters. 

‘You need to realise that it is not only my house that is burning, but the whole forest is on fire. Today it is my home. Tomorrow, it might be yours,’ Ritu Singh has said. Her words couldn’t be truer. On February 5, which marked 160 days since Ritu Singh has been protesting, Bhumika Saraswati shared an Instagram post with a poem by L E Bowman urging people to: 

‘Just show up. Even tired.

Even wearing yesterday’s stains on your clothes and yesterday’s dirt on your hands.

Ignore the side eyes that don’t understand.

These things are easier for some people.

People who don’t realise how close we all are to the ground.

People who’ve never had to pull themselves out.’

The right to justice feels like so basic a human right, something we owe each other. Ritu Singh’s activism invites us to put our anti-caste advocacy into practice by showing up for her. 

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
Send your feedback to
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

"Exciting news! Mid-day is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!

Register for FREE
to continue reading !

This is not a paywall.
However, your registration helps us understand your preferences better and enables us to provide insightful and credible journalism for all our readers.

Mid-Day Web Stories

Mid-Day Web Stories

This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK