Joining the ranks of young people around challenging injustice is Mumbai-based poetry collective UnErase Poetry with its recently launched campaign titled “52 seconds for free speech” (video above).
In the 52-second video, which is aptly devoid of human voice, and is accompanied only by a harsh din of static noise and video clips, the poetry collective stands up to the oppressors of free speech with an understated yet impactful message: “Imagine if all these voices were muted.”
The collective makes use of the national anthem with its campaign “#UnMuteFreeSpech”: “We live in times where free speech and media are under threat. It takes 52 seconds to stand up for the national anthem. It is time we take these 52 seconds to stand up for free speech.”
The poetry collective was founded by 16-year-old Simar Singh in Mumbai in 2017 to promote spoken-word poetry in Hindi and English, and it has often featured poets who take on serious social or political issues with their poetry. With this campaign, however, the aim is to question the tacit censorship that has taken over art and media in India.
“52 seconds for free speech is a question to all the so-called nationalists and patriots, the defenders of the government and authorities, who stand up for the national anthem with so much pride yet have blinded themselves to everything that has been taken away from the rest of us, from our democracy,” Singh told Scroll.in. “Their blind love for the government comes at the cost of our right to free speech. We are questioning their nationalism today and asking them to stand up, for all of us.”
“Today, the fourth pillar of our democracy has been threatened and censored, and our very source of expression and opinion has been shaken by those in power,” Singh said. “Shutting down the voice of the free press is a direct hit to the democracy. If we don’t talk about it, then who will?”
Ironically, even UnErase Poetry’s campaign attracted trouble. “When we spoke about free speech through our campaign, we too were asked to shut up,” claimed Singh. “We live in fear because of the abuses we’re getting, but speaking up is worth all of it. Our own fans are asking us to stay out of politics and just remain artistes.”
“But how can we, as artists, ‘stay out of it’?” Singh demanded. “If at the end of the day people are getting intimidated and affected by such a small entity, there has to be something really wrong with the country.”