Cultural Resistance in Times of Rising Authoritarianism in India: A Dossier


, by KUMAR Madhuresh

Three Jamia students, who were among the five women in a viral video protecting a friend from being beaten up by the Delhi police, anti-CAA protest in December 2019.
Credit : Sakeeb KPA. Courtesy Scroll‧in

Hum Dekhenge / We Shall See

Inevitably, we shall also see the day
that was promised to us, decreed
on the tablet of eternity.

When dark peaks of torment and tyranny
will be blown away like cotton fluff;

When the earth’s beating, beating heart
will pulsate beneath our broken feet;

When crackling, crashing lightning
will smite the heads of our tormentors;

When, from the seat of the Almighty
every pedestal will lie displaced;

Then, the dispossessed we; we,
who kept the faith will be installed
to our inalienable legacy.
Every crown will be flung.
Each throne brought down.

Only His name will remain; He,
who is both unseen, and ubiquitous; He,
who is both the vision and the beholder.

When the clarion call of ‘I am Truth’
(the truth that is me and the truth that is you)
will ring out, all God’s creatures will rule,
those like me and those like you.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz (translated by Mustansir Dalvi)

The song Hum Dekhenge has been reverberating after four decades on the other side of the border in India, translated in many languages, sung by countless cultural activists and performed at protest sites giving people the courage to stand up to the unfolding Hindutva authoritarianism in the country. The song was written in 1979, at a time where conservative Islam was used as an authoritarian and repressive tool to tighten Zia ul Haq’s grip over the country. The situation in the two countries is not the same. Still, signs of growing Hindutva domination and regressiveness can’t be missed in the country under the Narendra Modi-led BJP-NDA government at the Centre and in several other states.

This writing project was planned in late 2020, when the anti-CAA protests had waned after energising a whole new generation of young men and women, especially bringing Muslim women on the streets, with dadis (grandmas) of Shaheen Bagh becoming the face of a nation-wide protest. As we started work on the volume, the farmers protest intensified, the governments and ruling party misinformation campaign against dissenting citizens and opposition leaders continued, harassment and targeting of Muslims kept getting normalised, and courts and administrative machinery failed to protect the constitutional values, with some exceptions. At the same time, the everyday resistance by citizens, activists, fragmented opposition continued, emboldened after the victory of the farmer’s movements. Through their innovativeness and constantly changing tactics against the mass disinformation campaign by Godi media (a term used for pro-government media) and BJP’s IT cell, state oppression, violence and fake cases, farmers movements stood their ground even during the fierce second wave of covid. The more the repression, the more the resistance, and the realisation not all is lost. There is hope, and something more profound happening in the country.


This volume is an attempt at capturing a part of the much broader cultural resistance unfolding in the country, a response to the cultural attack by the Hindutva [1] brigade when the mainstream political parties have bowed to the pressure by pandering to the majoritarian agenda. However, social movements, cultural organisations, singers, artists, writers, cartoonists, comics, theatre and film personalities have sharpened their tools to resist and adhere to the fundamental values of secularism, love, non-violence and communal harmony and most importantly, to challenge growing authoritarian tendencies. The rallying cry to protect constitutional and democratic values has given boost and direction to their efforts, with occasional support from autonomous institutions and opposition political parties.

Are these cultural resistance tendencies new? Certainly not, but definitely, the current political oppression has breathed a new lease of life in them. History has shown us that the best of art, songs and cultural expressions have emerged in times of adversity, and India is no stranger to this.

The stories of resistance in this volume show the continuity of oppression and marginalisation that some communities have faced for years and their desire for change through struggle. Each of the initiatives and stories of cultural groups is rooted in history, in their context and struggle with the dominant ideas of our times, nation-states, nationalism, citizenship, power, culture, labour, love, caste and capitalism. The essays capture the courage and the dilemmas, hopes, despair, strength, and weaknesses of those in the movement. It’s not always a celebration since movements go through cycles of mass euphoria and defeat at times. This was visible in the farmer’s movements too, camping away from their homes on the borders of Delhi and countless other places, they received massive support but were also called anti-national or paid political agents rather than hardworking farmers in their own country, by a section of political representatives, media and the public.


The compilation tries to capture the diversity of the movements, interventions and every geographical region, but it remains incomplete. We couldn’t capture the cultural resistance in Jammu and Kashmir in response to the abrogation of article 370, or rich cultural legacy of fighting caste and patriarchy in southern India, or struggle of communities for control over forest and land resources in central India, amongst others. We have missed many, and perhaps there is much more to write, even in the areas and movements we have written about. We hope these stories give the readers a glimpse of what’s happening in India today when everyday life has been disturbed due to the global pandemic.

Through conversations, participation and relying on existing public material, these stories capture the motivation, politics, vision, strategy and tactics of the cultural groups and artists despite facing repression and difficulties. When the project was conceived, plan was to travel across the country and come out with these texts and accompanying live recordings, songs, interviews, etc., but then the pandemic made it difficult. From an individual project it became a collective one with Geetanjali, Sunil and Rosamma contributing to this volume. Geetanjali in Mumbai could meet and talk to the Samata and Kabir Kala Manch in person, and Sunil had been very much part of the anti-CAA and farmers movements from day one. I managed to meet and talk to members of Raschakra in person, but others had to be worked over zoom.


History shows that dictators have come and gone despite repression and violence, and people have stood up and often emerged victorious. As we were finishing this volume, we heard the news of the Indian government agreeing to the farmers’ demand. In recent times, it is one of the most significant political defeats for the establishment, casting doubt over its undefeatability. It has energised the opposition political parties and the struggling communities across the country. The fear is gone, and the worst fear for a dictatorship is that people stop fearing it. Perhaps this is the beginning of the new dawn as we look ahead to the crucial state elections in 2022 and later general elections in 2024.

Wo subah kabhi to aayegi / That dawn shall come someday

That dawn shall come someday. That dawn shall come someday.
When from face of dark ages shall strip the veil of darkness.
When melts the clouds of sadness, overflows oceans of happiness.
When skies shall dance and sway, the earth shall sing its rhapsody.
That dawn shall come someday.
The dawn for which since ages, we live while we die everyday.
The dawn for whose ambrosia’s melody, we drink venom everyday.
On each of these hungry-thirsty body shall sweats of hardships one day.
That dawn shall come someday.
Agreed that desires of your’s and mine’s are utterly useless.
Even the dust has some value but humans are absolutely valueless.
When the dignity of human lives will not be measured with fake currency;
That dawn shall come someday.

Poem by Sahir Ludhiyanvi and translation in English by Deepankar Choudhury.


[1Hindutva is the prominent form of Hindu nationalism in India espoused by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party and its affiliates. It has been described as a variant of "right-wing extremism" and as "almost fascist in the classical sense", adhering to a concept of homogenised majority and cultural hegemony. See more details on


Madhuresh Kumar is an activist with NAPM India and Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity at LSE.