How often do you get to wear a mask and parade around MG Road? Only on 9 June 2012. And so I was there to check out what Anonymous is going to pull in Bangalore, with their all-India call to protest.
In May of this year, there were a few protests around the country against the IT Rules. These events were largely conducted by organizations working closely with policy in the country. Then a corporate had the gall to censor free speech in India- Reliance blocked file sharing websites of various orders. State censorship/ protection of people is old news and we are somewhat ready for it, know what arguments to expect from the government and are already prepared with rebuttals. One can see sense in the government’s argument that excessive mouthing-off can harm sections of people whom the government is responsible for. But now a corporate dared to censor free speech. And for its own economic ends. How dare it! With the plug pulled on the high seas of the torrents, young people everywhere suddenly had no time-pass. With no more television series to download and watch, they got together and we began hearing of Anonymous attacks on government websites.
At the protest in Bangalore, yes organisation was absent, attendance was a sprinkle, and more attendance was lost because of the first reason. We are all used to being told what to do, and so not having a leader was a new life experience for most. But protesters finally found each other, and managed a sizeable number at Freedom Park (FP) by the end of the day.
The plan was to meet up at various metro points in Bangalore, and congregate at the central station at MG Road. There were a few people sitting around, and everyone seemed to be giving each other a longer and harder look than usual, but no one knew what to do. Then some boys began unrolling large posters and soon there was a group of about 15 protestors around them, and even sooner, did the photo session with the Press begin. Masks were put on in a hurry, posters were displayed, and protestors stood in a small huddle for the camera. Some people just dropped in and left immediately after the photos. Then in about ten minutes, everything and everyone broke up. “Where did they go? Do you know what to do? Where should we go now?” One group chugged off down Brigade Road, a legally unacceptable place to protest in Bangalore. Another group set off to the MG Park, the formal designated area for protests in Bangalore. Still others were pondering heading to FP- the newly created protest destination in Bangalore, and the only place for which there was alleged permission for the protest. Apparently the bulk of the Press had landed up there, and the protestors hadn’t.
This is Good-Anonymous in action, from my readings of it- people take charge on their own, and don't wait around for someone above to tell them what to do. To this extent, this was positive action on the part of the protestors who really had nothing to hold on to. In case of any untoward event, protestors would not even know who their comrades were, what with the masks and bandanas, yet they chose to do the illegal and protest together (protesting without a police permit is illegal in India) (Im not endorsing illegal activity of any kind =/).
At MG Park, protestors were largely vacant and generally hanging out. Yay for masks, or else major lameness shall have been felt. It was photo-sesh for Facebook and making comments to a few irritated Press people who were at the park. “Don't you have a phone number?” they asked. To which the general response was always, “We are Anonymous *sound of wind blowing*” Which really did not answer their question and they continued to be annoyed and huffy. A number of protestors were lost along the way- they had gone to take photocopies of the Guy Fawkes mask =/
A roly-poly cop turned up. Walkie-talkie was the only betrayer of his possible police connections. He asked the protesters to show their permit or leave. One of the alleged Anons talked to him and soon the cop was laughing and amiably saying something like, “No problem, just go to FP.”
A kind lady then came from the FP protest to inform the MG Protestors to move to FP where there were more protestors and Press. FP was a better idea, as there was more scope for symbolic action. There were about 80 protestors in total. Feeble and disorganized chants were made sporadically, led by a diminutive girl in a blue scarf. Protestors were not sure whether to follow the call-and-respond method or the fill-in-the-blanks method. Since different people tried both methods and filled blanks differently, it was a general rumble. A “protest auto” arrived, and some unmasked gentlemen began making speeches through a mic, amplified through the speakers mounted on the auto. The mic was passed around and others sheepishly made their statements about free speech. Someone began telling people to disperse because some cops were getting itchy. The sun set.
The pre and post parts of this protest were orchestrated via a Posterous page called ‘Operation India’ and Facebook events. Several people were unhappy at the events in India being called “Occupy.” For some, “Occupy” spells much hope from images we saw over the last many months. For others, “occupy” is but a generic protest buzz word. I see this point but find it futile to harp on the semantics of ‘O’ versus ‘o’ with a bunch of people who clearly have their heads in the cloud (Geek PJ, gimme some!). A few hours before meeting time, one possible Anon frontman posted on Facebook, “This is not a protest, it is OCCUPY.” When quizzed about it, he made no sense. At the protest, when asked about it, he made no sense either. He repeated the same statement a few times and said, “If you want, you can call it protest but if you want you can call it occupy but we are saying it is different. Occupy is not a protest. Like Gandhi’s work of civil disobedience, was not a protest. Like that, we are not a protest.” Whatever that means, but it apparently does not matter. Maybe it was his strategy to weasel out of a police confrontation- by confusing them. It could be that these guys are going for, "Lets Occupy India by Anonymous tactics and... if there are any more buzz words, lets use that also, maybe we will trend on Twitter with one of these tags.”
There was also some politics with the initial event being cancelled and viewers directed to a second page, though only the first page flourished. No explanation was given for the same, and it only added to the general confusion that happened online and at the protest.
Those who didn’t show up were termed “Dickheads” by a distinguished looking Anon gentlemen who stood apart from the protestors, at FP. He had come in full costume- black suit AND mask. The FSMK organisation in Bangalore that has really been doing a lot of great and sustained work, was termed “FUCK” and declared unwanted (because they did not wear masks and distributed flyers). People who queried his beliefs and statements were called “bitch” and “idiot” “who hasn’t watched the movie V for Vendetta.” (This was indeed the prescribed educational potion by the smug Anon). Spurning people who may actually be interested in Anonymous’ aims of free speech, strikes me as an immature idea.
The arrogance and heavy-headedness was displayed in other ways as well. One of the alleged and self-proclaimed organizers asked someone if she would like to work on phase two of the Operation. He tried to find out who she was and other personal details. When she did not freely give the information, he said, “Ill dox you. . Ill find out your personal data from the internet and dox you." =/ Well, nice of you to use your technological weapons for personal vendetta.
There seemed to be a general low level of comprehension of facts and debate. Instead there has been much trolling and repetition of rhetoric in mindless and juvenile fashion- “We are legion, we do not forget, we do not forgive” etc etc and this was often the response provided to any statement!- save two people I talked to online. All the rest who seemed to be vocalizing their feelings online had nothing to say when asked about the cause, and got defensive in juvenile ways when faced with opposition.
Though this is common to thousands of online forums, if this is their idea of free expression and dialogue, then OpIndia and I have some ideological problems. Anons are currently riding on the cockiness that comes with the new found use of their technological prowess. Since Anonymous is a group that has no moderator or rules, people can actually get away with saying anything, doing anything, believing anything and convincing others to believe in anything. Individuals who mislead can become representative of Anonymous and take from whatever good that they may be planning. Being a pain online is no big deal. But it becomes important here since the identity of the organizers is unknown, work is predominantly done online, and it could be these painful folks who will be doing the next DDOS attack on their half baked rationales and feel like heros. With no surety of legit and troll, I am concerned.
As a side comment, I also found it interesting how the self-important Anons parading on the Indian pages could not catch irony or sarcasm or even general humour. Which is really quite terrible if you want to be an Anon since Anons have always tactically thrived on satire (and drama).