Filippo Mondini on the March on Nayager

In the past few weeks the State Repression Machine has been working hard to silence the impoverished and oppressed of this country. We have seen the way they tried to criminalize normal people but we did not remain silent. We have seen the way they tried to bring false accusations against normal people, but we did not remain silent, we fought them back.

We fought them back in a strange and curious way, in a way that seems ridiculous and paradoxical: we knelt before them while we were saying: “you have brutalized our humanity”. We have rediscovered our humanity in our kneeling down, moreover, we have discovered that our non-violence adds something to our humanity and dignity.

First of all, we have said clearly and loudly that we are not like them. We do not use violence to affirm our supposed superiority. We do not treat other human beings as if they were animals. We do not respond with guns and violence when there are conflicts and political divergences. Our courage is grounded in the righteousness of our cause and therefore, we do not need guns and repression to confront other opinions.

Secondly, we have shown what we really are and the courage which moves us. We have shown that people, especially the impoverished, are ready to pay the price of their ideas and motivations. Kneeling down before 20 armed people is not an act of the cowardly on the contrary, it is a demonstration that we are even ready to die in order to win a better life for all. Kneeling down means to say: “you can even kill us but before, please, look straight in our eyes”. That night we forced Nayager and his people to look at what Abahlali are. That night we brought before the police station our stories, our daily struggles, our families, our communities, our longing for a better life, the presence of the whole movement and, like a sacred liturgy, we have offered all these things to them. In this offering we have said that that is what we are, we are our communities, our families, our movement, our longing for a better life. Are we dangerous criminals? Do we deserve such repression and violence?

That night people of Kennedy Road have grasped something very important about the Good News of Liberation. To begin with, they have grasped that Jesus wants the conversion of the oppressor and not his/her death. Kneeling down before Nayager has also been a prayer, an extreme effort to win his humanity back. It is not enough to have shown our dignity, we want also to see Nayager’s dignity and humanity. That night people of Kennedy road have lived out the Prophetic message of Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.

Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.

Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,

that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust”. (Matthew 5:38-45)

The point that Jesus makes here is not to be silent and submissive in front of oppression. Jesus asks the oppressed something very difficult and radical: He asks, through a non-violent struggle, to win the oppressor back. More radically, “Turn the other one to him as well”, “Hand him your cloak as well”, “Go with him for two miles”, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” are not requests to the oppressed but to the oppressor. These actions, somehow, force the oppressor to think at what s/he is doing. In the oppressed non-violent resistance is rooted the question “Why?” Why are you striking, robbing, oppressing, hating me? This can be seen clearly during Jesus’ trial: When the soldier slapped Him, Jesus did not offer the other cheek but asked: “Why do you strike me? If there is some offence in what I said point it out…” (John 18:23) The soldier did not reply anything. That is also what happened in front of the police station. Kneeling down has been like to ask “Why are you doing this to us?” and this has been very effective!! It was clear the embarrassment shown by most of the police who were “protecting” Nayager from us (and maybe, as S’bu pointed out, also protecting ourselves from him). Their embarrassment was revealed by their expressions, by the policewoman who, before wearing the helmet, was singing the same song which we were singing, and other little details…

The people of Kennedy Road grasped that Nayager needs to rediscover his humanity and helped him in this process. The fact that he and his policeman were embarrassed is a good sign!

The intuition of the Shack Dwellers tells also another important thing. It tells that Abahlali BaseMjondolo is not struggling for power but for a different society where everyone can be at home, even Nayager. Moreover, in the process of struggling they are already building this new society trough the relationships and solidarity which the struggles itself facilitate. Two examples can help to understand better. The first one is the net of solidarity created during this time of crisis, a solidarity that goes beyond races and nationalities. Above all, the solidarity developed within Abahlali itself.

Secondly, the new relationships developed among some Priests, Reverends, Ministers and Religious. Paradoxically, the terrible repression faced by Abahlali has been the driving force in uniting several pastors and religious from different denomination. Abahlali BaseMjondolo is a prophetic movement which is helping the Church to be a Church and this among other things, means to consider impoverished people the moving principle and not just the beneficiaries of Church’s actions.