What purpose do protests serve in a democracy?
On November 26, 2020, farmers and labourers’ from the states of Punjab and Haryana in India began the largest protest in modern history. They demanded repeal of three farm laws set to privatise agriculture. Camped on national highways in makeshift shelters to the national capital Delhi, the protestors made the highways their home for the next thirteen months. After a long and arduous struggle of battling the seasons and systematic brutality, they managed to create history when the Government of India relented and repealed the very laws they had ushered in without discussion or debate.
JAMHURIYAT meaning democracy, is a story of Independent India’s longest running peaceful protest – the Kisan Andolan or the Farmers’ Protest and its impact on legislative elections in Punjab. The film chronicles 16 months from the start of the protest until the state elections in Punjab. The film shuttles between different protest sites on the borders of Delhi and in Punjab as it moves through issues intrinsically linked to the protest like the long looming agrarian crisis and a growing discontent with governmental policies to privatize.
Starting as a reportage of the protest but gradually receding into its background, the story moves to rural Punjab as the protestors make their way home after the victory and are faced with upcoming elections. While the protest and the power of unionizing has enabled them to reclaim the idea of democracy and its spaces that were being lost, what does it mean for a state and its structure where everything eventually boils down to votes? What does it mean for them and their lives, and their ideas of hope and change?
Our film’s compass is this dichotomy of politics of power versus politics of people in a democracy and how far can it shift the contours of politics and our lives.