Indian filmmaker Saba Dewan speaks during a 'Not in My Name' protest against a spate of anti-Muslim violence in India, at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on June 28, 2017. Photo: Javed Sultan / Anadolu Agency
Indian filmmaker Saba Dewan speaks during a 'Not in My Name' protest against a spate of anti-Muslim violence in India, at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on June 28, 2017. Photo: Javed Sultan / Anadolu Agency

Amid reports of Muslims and Dalits being assaulted and even killed in India, civil society has repeatedly taken to the streets saying these atrocities were “#NotInMyName.” The movement was started by Delhi-based filmmaker Saba Dewan through a simple Facebook post but it grew into something much bigger as the issue resonated with a significant segment of society.

On Thursday, August 9, the latest #NotInMyName protest was held on Parliament Street in New Delhi. People gathered in large numbers to protest against increasing attacks by Hindutva mobs and cow-protection vigilantes.

The #NotInMyName protests spread last year across at least 16 Indian cities, including Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Hyderabad, where scores of citizens held the government accountable. Dewan spoke to Asia Times about the campaign, its origin and the problems staring India in the face as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gears up for elections next year. Her responses appear below.

How did the #NotInMyName campaign start?

In the last four years, I was dismayed by targeted attacks and hate crimes being normalized. It’s a kind of discrimination against minorities, against Dalits, which was becoming part of everyday speech and action – the politics of violence, which was being normalized. The breaking point last year came with 15-year-old Junaid’s killing.

But the protests were not for Junaid [Khan] alone; it was against the kind of targeted attacks, especially against Muslims and Dalits, that were taking place when in June last year the first #NotInMyName protest took place in Delhi. That, I guess, touched a nerve among people as it was a citizens’ protest and not organized by any political parties, and people saw ways in which they could also protest autonomously.

Why do you think the campaign was able to spontaneously take off among the people?

Over the past few years, beginning with the attack on Mohsin Sheikh and then Mohammad Akhlaq, lynching has been becoming a part of the Indian landscape. We kept waiting for someone to protest and someone to lead. But no one did. Hence we held our own protests. We don’t have any organizational backgrounds. The reason why the campaign took off is that a lot of people were feeling the similar kind of anger and frustration as we were. It was the moment where a protest was needed and the silence was becoming claustrophobic.

Why did you choose the date August 9 to protest?

We were planning to protest anyway given the recent rush of mob lynchings and killings happening – be it the Hapur case or Rakbar Khan‘s killing in Rajasthan. We can see clearly, as the election year is approaching, the politics of hatred and violence is becoming more and more brazen. And we felt August 9, the anniversary of Quit India movement [1942], would be apt for a protest. We also call the movement August Kranti or August Revolution, where Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, were on the street for India’s freedom [from British colonizers].

Some other groups also protested on August 9 and raised the issue of lynching. Were you aware of it?

The fact that other people’s groups are also having protests on this day was important for us and one of the reasons why we decided to hold it on August 9, as a form of solidarity. We are hand in hand in support of the farmers’ group and army veterans.

Why was the campaign dubbed “Not in My Name”?

I had no idea how big this campaign would become. I had just written a Facebook post, which was the campaign’s genesis. I wrote that nobody was organizing a protest, so I would go to Jantar Mantar myself and stand with a placard and say this violence and hate was “not in my name”; that kind of caught on.

“Not in my name” was an anti-Vietnam War slogan in the 1960s-70s in America. I had not consciously thought of using an anti-war slogan.

But from what you’re saying, it seems like India is seeing a war on certain communities. Is that so?

It is a war, but not only on minorities. This government is an anti-people government. They are at war against the minorities, they are at war against the Dalits, and against women, against the people of India. Poor girls in state-run shelter homes are sexually exploited and raped and there is no clamor.

Why do you think the perpetrators are not being punished in most cases?

Obviously, there is a culture of impunity that’s making it possible. In most of the cases, there are actually BJP leaders or BJP state ministers who have come out and supported the killers or the alleged culprits. The police, in many cases, have fudged up the cases and shielded the culprits under orders.

For instance, people who killed Alimuddin Ansari are granted bail; they come out and Jayant Sinha [civil aviation minister] goes and garlands them. When a little child in Kathua was brutalized, raped and killed, some BJP ministers took out processions in support of the culprits. Very clearly, this government is completely complicit in these crimes.

Why are we suddenly seeing a surge in sectarian violence in recent times?

It’s because the current Hindutva project is based on mobilizing people politically with the use of hatred and violence. This anti-democratic ideology uses the rhetoric of hatred. Hindus, they say, are in great danger today but they are an overwhelming majority in India. This is the language of discrimination and hatred. It’s not just an anti-Muslim bias but part of a consistent political discourse.

What do you think about the Supreme Court ruling asking the government to create new anti-mob-violence law?

The judgment is much welcome and they have given some important guidelines that are ought to be followed. But this government is good at promising new laws. If there was a political will, culprits could definitely have been prosecuted under the existing laws. People have gone scot-free and cases have been diluted not because of lack of laws, but the lack of political will to bring justice.