Mismanagement of crises has brought down the most powerful governments in the past: Shivam Patil

Social media more effective than the government

Interview

Society

May 27, 2021

/ By Palak Chawla / New Delhi

Mismanagement of crises has brought down the most powerful governments in the past: Shivam Patil

Actor Shivam Patil says, if people don’t know what they are fighting for, they are not connected to it, not living with it at ground level then there is no activism (Instagram/ Shivam Patil)

Shivam Patil, an actor-activist, talks about the inability of government to manage the alarming shortage of medical supplies and vaccination, the role played by social media platforms and common people amidst the second wave of the pandemic and the importance of expressing dissent.

You have been very vocal on the current social and political issues facing the country. What makes you take up this?

“I was always an anti-bully. In school and college, there were bullies who were picking on people; I just don’t know why it came to me instinctively to stop that to the degree that I wasn’t known for anything else. I think it was the rage and anger at the people, the system that is making people suffer unnecessarily. It was the anti-bully in me who saw the biggest bully in the country picking up the most vulnerable people of the country.

Three incidents in the country triggered me that made me take up activism. First was the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. My only reaction to it initially was everybody is chiming with their opinion except the people of Kashmir. It is about Kashmir and nobody is here to listen to them and that seemed unfair. So I started looking up, reading up realising I do not know enough what is going on but I know something is messed up and wrong so I need to dig deeper and understand best what’s happening before putting opinions on.

The second incident was the Aarey forest in Bombay in 2019 where BJP government wanted to chop a large section of forest against which there was a large protest. Many of my friends were a part of the protest. It was for the first time I knew someone directly who is in the protest and I remember the police lathi (baton)-charging the protesters. It was a shock to me that my friends were lathi-charged and jailed for just a protest. I posted a lot about Aarey- the first activism related post on my profile as it was happening in my city and that was affecting me.

The third element was the anti-CAA protests in Delhi. Students of Jamia Millia Islamia University protested and were assaulted by the Delhi police and the videos went viral. I put myself in their position that I am studying in a college, sitting in the library and stones are being thrown from the window because I tried to speak up. My government has sent armed police into my college to harass, assault and destroy my ability to dissent. So at that point of time something changed in me and I never looked back.

Besides raising it on the social media, what else have you done on these issues?

Sitting in an air conditioned room and typing long stories on Instagram is not really activism, I call it keyboard war, it is not good enough. So I travelled to Delhi, I participated in the protest, went to Jamia, JNU and Shaheen Bagh to understand what was going on. I got to hear so many horror stories from students about how they had been treated by the police. I could see the marks on the walls of the University. .

You were also part of the January 26, 2021 farmers’ rally, how was your experience and what are your opinions on it, seeing how it played out?

Shivam Patil at Singhu border in January 2021 (Instagram/ Shivam Patil)

I saw the farmers struggling, I remember when I saw the initial videos of them entering Delhi, the way the police was using water cannons on them, barricading them, beating them up still they were just moving the barricades and moving through. I remember the videos of old and aged farmers sitting on the street drenched in ice cold water in December winter. I felt that these are my people and they are being treated so badly just because they want themselves to be heard. So I was waiting for an opportunity to help them beyond the social media and they put up that call for January 26.

I have been in protests before but to be part of farmers’ protest of such a large scale I can’t even describe it, the sheer number of those people, the solidarity, I had never experienced that before, that was life changing for me. I saw the farmers’ protest from being the most talked about protest not just in India but across the world to suddenly just becoming about what happened at Red Fort. I saw the police using tear gas without any provocation, using the incident at the Red Fort as an excuse. When I put those videos of my eyewitness account of the tractor parade, I had no idea how the national television media was going to portray the protest and how people were changing their minds about it. I had put my own experience that I was there yesterday and all this happened. The videos went viral and many people told me that people are listening to you, believing you that have no reason to lie, no biases and that is why your videos are going viral.

Seeing the current situation due to Covid-19 in India, many people have come forward to help those in need. How effective has this been?

While I am glad social media filled the void between a failing government and Covid-19 crises, but that is not going to last. It has been very unfortunate that social media has been used to save people’s life in a literal sense. How badly the system has collapsed, he government has failed that it has come to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. Imagine this pandemic 15 years ago, how many more deaths we could have seen, because we didn’t have the resources that social media has given us to be able to ask for or provide help.

We realised the only thing that was helping was this social media movement and you are not getting any help from the government. In fact the government started to clamp down on social media.

What people have been doing is from a position of zero power, imagine if we had the funds and resources that the central government has, how much we could have prevented or stopped this crisis. People wanted answers if not Modi, who? They got it. People of India have so much more to offer for themselves than these narcissists.

Do you think social media influencers are doing what the government should be doing?

Yes, we are not trained for this, even doctors have to undergo years of training to handle this and it has come to individual citizens like you and me who are trying their best to help but even our best is not enough as many things in this can go wrong- What if a lead fails, what if a lead is not reliable, black marketing is going on, checking every single lead before giving it. People are really breaking under this sort of setup. We can do this for one or two days but it’s been months now. People are still trying to help in the best way they can. Common people are facing the pressure that entire health care system is supposed to handle.

What do you think of the government’s response to everything that has been going on right now?

They have been blaming state governments for their own failure. It’s like if a crisis occurs in a school, the principal and the board of directors of the school evade responsibility by blaming a class teacher. The state governments are powerless if the Centre does not send supplies. The entire responsibility is on the Centre but it is happily passing the buck to the state governments. In a pandemic, the Centre has all the powers and the states are helpless. The numbers are 20-30 times what are being reported and just few days ago we broke the international records of number of deaths in one week. The shamelessness and complete disregard for life is shocking. What is shocking is that it has broken India so deeply that the strongest supporters of this government have now started to ask questions, saying this is not ok, they are not doing enough. Mismanagement of crises has brought down the most powerful governments in the past. I think the government knows that they could fail when it comes to human rights, when it comes to progress of economy, thinking people still might vote for them. However, a crisis of this level that you mismanage, so many people die at your hands and you don’t watch, this people will remember and that is why they are insecure, they have gone to a level of madness, they seem clueless.

Have you faced any kind of pressure from the government for the work that you have been doing?

The actor has been part of movies like Ghayal: Once Again, Kalaalakaandi and Nasha (Instagram/ Shivam Patil)

The kind of hate that I get on social media is a lot. The government has a set of tactics to deal with this kind of dissent. Earlier they would go after everyone left, right and centre but then they realised that the more they suppressed people the more attention the issue would get. They started realising they can’t get in news for wrong reasons because all they care about is PR. So now they have changed their tactics, now they don’t go after public figures officially. Officially, they target people who are not famous. So they go after students who are taking calls for oxygen, or NGOs trying to arrange something. BJP IT cells are constantly stalking me, abusing me, trying to report my profile, gathering the entire army of haters, I have been dealing with this for two years now. I just know how to deal with them so it’s not that lethal.

Another thing that really protects me which is not protecting other people in the country is that I come from a state that does not have a BJP government. I come from a city that has police force that is not loyal to BJP so they can’t use the kind of intimidation that they would use if I was in Delhi or UP or Bangalore or Goa or anywhere they have power officially, or politically or even in terms of police. If they do this to someone in Mumbai, it would backfire.

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