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Democracy Wall: An MP who supports LGBTQ rights and a policewoman who rescued 953 children

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The Democracy Wall in Mumbai’s Somaiya Vidyavihar saw status quo being challenged with satire and the voices of tomorrow challenge today’s leaders.

Tough questions, laughter, and energy kept students and guests on the edge of their seats at the third edition of ThePrint’s Democracy Wall. Pressing issues that challenge our country were taken up and dissected by the audience, leaders, and thinkers from various fields, from politics to cinema, and literature to comedy.

Held at Mumbai’s Somaiya Vidyavihar college, Democracy Wall, a free speech campus initiative, aims to spark a conversation on pressing issues among the youth.

Comedian Shyam Rangeela broke the ice with his spot-on, rib-tickling impressions of Indian politicians. The moment Rangeela addressed the audience with “mitron“, Narendra Modi-style — the whole auditorium was in splits.

Railway Protection Force sub-inspector Rekha Mishra’s evident passion for her job had the students in awe. She talked about the difficulty of being a woman in the force and the language barriers she often faces on the job. She also told the audience how she rescued three girls from Chennai, who were kidnapped and brought to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), and helped traced their parents.

Mishra has been posted in Mumbai for three years, and has already helped rehabilitate 953 runaway, lost and trafficked children from CST.

Author Amish Tripathi, who has made Hindu mythology more accessible to readers, said the freedom of speech and expression was deeply ingrained in Hindu culture. He added that Sanskrit did not even have a word for blasphemy because the concept did not exist in Hindu culture.

“Freedom of expression is at the heart of all rights. If we don’t have that, then nothing exists,” he said.

Tripathi also engaged the audience with a quiz about Hindu mythology.

However, it was the students who threw some of the toughest questions, questioning Lok Sabha member Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda about data security. Panda said he supported Aadhaar because it would put an end to the “massive siphoning of money” by those in the government. Panda also expressed support for LGBTQ rights, saying he was trying to initiate change by standing up for transgender rights. “I have chosen to pick a narrow subject because if we can get transgender rights, then it is a foot in the door, and once you have a foot in the door, then you can start opening it up,” he said.

Bold confrontations about the Indian film industry followed, as the ‘princess of parallel cinema’, actor Tannishtha Chatterjee, took the stage. She addressed the glass ceiling in Bollywood and encouraged pop-culture influencers to put an end to regressive stereotypes. “The kind of stories that are being told have become more and more patriarchal. We need to break that and have female superstars, and only when that happens will the pay be equalised,” said Chatterjee.

The audience listened intently as Chatterjee opened up about her own struggles in the industry, where she refused to give in to pressures to change her own appearance.

In college, there is hardly ever a class that keeps you from yawning at least once every 40 minutes. But ‘Constitutor’ Meghnad’s ‘tuition’ is one of a kind. Every student not only learns something new about Indian polity but also ends up rolling with laughter at Meghnad’s witty jibes.

As the tradition of Democracy Wall goes, a team from ThePrint carefully analysed the submissions for the photography and opinion-writing contests on topics pertaining to free speech and politics.

The first prize for the opinion-writing contest, on the topic ‘Does the BJP reflect the ideas of the youth?’, was bagged by Nimit Arora. Anil Kumar Shakya got the first prize for the photography contest, which had the theme ‘This is what freedom feels like’.

By the end, our canvas democracy ‘wall’ was filled with some interesting thoughts. While some challenged the status quo through satire, others offered new ideas for change. Either way, the writings echoed the voices of the youth that may tomorrow take the national podiums of our democracy, just as boldly and vibrantly.

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