Less than tepid response to Anonymous India’s first public protest
While thousands agreed to attend, turnout was a mere trickle. “This is just a start. Change will take time,” say organisers.
Anonymous India's 15-city protest witnessed a low turnout at Jantar Mantar in Delhi
Photo: Shailendra Pandey
Anonymous is known for being secretive, but for the first hour of its first scheduled protest, the “hacktivist” group was also for the most part invisible. Gradually, however, the Mumbai segment of the 15-city India protest witnessed about 200 individuals gather. They included protestors, journalists, policemen, and more than a few tourists and intrigued passersby.
Anons, as members of Anonymous—an international group fighting for greater internet freedom—refer to themselves, were passionate about explaining their movement. Anonymously though. “We don’t have a leadership. We are all leaders and are fighting for freedom,” an Anon exclaimed.
“Anonymous is an idea. We are fighting to retain our right to criticise politicians, and politicians want to censor that,” another Anon explained. Over recent months, the Indian government has been increasingly stringent about what can be posted on social networking sites. “It is unacceptable to censor wall posts and tweets,” an Anon said. The group is critical of what it calls the “nexus between corporations, politicians, and media houses”.
Some of the Anons placed their struggle within a larger, global struggle for freedom and justice. “Anonymous is also advocating for passing the Lokpal Bill. We support Anna Hazare, and we also support Julian Assange,” an Anon said. “Censorship in India has just begun to increase. We don’t want it to become worse,” added another.
Anons and their supporters even evoked an emotional nationalism. “China at least provides freedom from hunger, and economic growth. In India we don’t have that; so we have to fight at the very least for our political freedom,” one college student-Anon explained. Standing next to a poster with an image of Mahatma Gandhi, a Mumbai-based lawyer remarked, “The government is restricting our civil right to criticise. The poor anyway don’t have a voice. Now even the netizens will not.” The group had no doubts about its rectitude. “We are non-violent and we use our private money and resources to fund the protest,” said a member.
Everyone at the protest, however, did not agree with the Anons. Concerns over the group’s methodology were aired. “I am unsure about their means of seeking their ends. Systematic taking down of websites… I’m not sure how I feel about that,” a Mumbai-based college student said. Ironically, he too wished to remain anonymous in his critique of Anonymous. He was referring to the hacking of various websites, including that of the Supreme Court and of the Congress. Another skeptic referred to Anonymous’ methods as “hypocritical.” “You cannot fight authoritarianism by yourself being authoritarian. Hacking is a sort of violence,” she said. Others were doubtful of the group’s likelihood of success. “We don’t think they’ll be able to achieve actual change,” said Maya Sorabjee, a college student. And there were those uncomfortable with the outfit’s outfit. “I don’t understand the idea of masking your identity,” said Aditya Singh, manager at a media agency.
The Saturday evening protest included the distribution and presentation of Anonymous paraphernalia. Leaflets were distributed and Guy Fawkes masks were also available. A banner read: “The Corrupt Fear Us. The Honest Support Us. The Heroic Join Us.” Posters proclaimed: “You can censor the internet, but not my mind;” and “If the government shuts down the internet, keep calm and shut down the government.”
While it teemed with activity and conversation, the event was marked with some disorganisation and a low turnout. Initially scheduled to take place at the Gateway of India, it was eventually held at Azad Maidan. The Delhi protest too, saw a low turnout at Jantar Mantar. “I think they have organised this protest too quickly. Not enough organisation was done and not too many people in India know about the group yet,” a supporter told Tehelka. Over two thousand protestors had, as per Anonymous’ Facebook page, agreed to attend, but the turnout was a mere trickle. The organising Anons, however, dismissed the dismal turnout. “This is just a start. Change will take time. But we shouldn’t keep silent,” an Anon said.
The India outpost of Anonymous is still in its infancy. Anonymous itself, however, is a global movement launched about three years ago to fight for internet freedom. It came to global attention when it targeted major websites, including VISA and PayPal, for blocking contributions to WikiLeaks.
Abhimanyu Chandra is an editorial intern