social & justice

15 Major Social Justice Events And Revolutions In 2020

Karthika S Nair | Dec 15 2020
Image credits: BP creatives

Trigger Warning: descriptions of sexual violence

The year 2020 is leaving with a lacklustre mark for a number of reasons, the COVID among them the most that claimed over 1,594,740 people across the globe.

It has been tough for almost everyone, whether poor or rich. And for some people, this year ended up being much worse than others, owing to financial, social and cultural barriers they had to endure. 

2020, as a year, also saw the uprising of different social justice movements, protests and events that brought a chill down one's spine. 

Here are some of the major protests, controversies, and revolutionary events that took place in 2020. 

1. Discourse Around Problematic Content In Netflix's '365 Days' 

Image source: YouTube

Erotic film '365 Days' became a surprising hit on Netflix. Based on the erotic trilogy by Blanka Lipińska, the film features an Italian mafia boss Massimo (Michele Morrone) who kidnaps Laura (Anna-Maria Sieklucka), a woman he becomes infatuated with. He gives her 365 days to fall in love with him and promises not to touch her without her consent. 

The film had been trending for months on Netflix, and it is in the top ten most viewed films' list in major countries like India, Germany, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey, Sweden, etc. 

At the same time, it has also been the worst-reviewed film of the year. Apart from the flimsy storyline, it is vehemently slammed for glorifying sexual assault, kidnapping, stalking, Stockholm syndrome, domestic abuse and sadism. The woman in the story has no agency.

Singer Duffy, who is a kidnap and rape survivor, wrote an open letter slamming Netflix over the "irresponsible film" in post #MeToo era where powerful men have been called out for sexual exploitation. 

Several feminist groups demanded the removal of the film from streaming. 

There has been a petition on demanding the removal of the film with the petition bearing over 88,000 signatures. However, the film is still streaming on Netflix. 

2. Anti-CAA Protests In Shaheen Bagh

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The year 2019 wrapped up with the controversies and conversations regarding the central government's Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). 

Several women formed a group and expressed dissent against the CAA in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi. 

CAA is alleged to provide a right of Indian citizenship to illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh only if they are non-Muslims. Protestors were conjured because when clubbed with National Registry of Citizens (NRC), illegal Muslim immigrants can then be detained or deported. Many are concerned because of their possible inability to prove citizenship can put them in detention as well. 

Shaheen Bagh protests were led by Muslim women, most of whom were aged and have not stepped out of the house for years due to cultural restrictions imposed on them. The protests were withdrawn following the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown. 

 82-year old Bilkis Bano, known as "Shaheen Bagh dadi", was listed in TIME magazine's 100 most influential people of 2020 as well as BBC's 100 Women.

3. COVID-19 Outbreak, Public Anger On Dr Li’s Death 

Image source: Twitter

The biggest setback of the year came in the form of an invisible enemy- the novel Coronavirus which causes the deadly disease (COVID-19). 

The virus was first reported in Wuhan province in China and afterward, it began to spread all over the world. The World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in January 2020 and a Pandemic in March 2020. The same month that saw a lockdown in major nations including India. 

Amidst all this came public anger against the Chinese authorities for silencing Dr Li Wenliang, whistle-blower of the virus. 

Working at Wuhan Central Hospital, he received an internal diagnostic report from a patient who was suspected to have SARS-like illness. He shared this news with his friends on WeChat asking them to take protective measures, which later turned up on social media. 

Fearing that these rumours will affect tourism and Chinese businesses,  Wuhan police summoned and admonished him for "making false comments on the Internet."

He went back to work and eventually contracted the virus himself, died later on. Apart from him, five other doctors who also played the role of whistleblowers died due to COVID-19. 

Soon, Dr Li became a symbol of public anger against the authorities. People rallied and commemorated him. 

Other celebrities demanded transparency and free speech to be exercised by the government. 

The U.S. Senate honoured Li by passing a resolution calling for transparency and cooperation from the Government of the People's Republic of China.

The Chinese government eventually recognised him as a martyr and the Communist Party of China offered an official apology to his family. 

4. Exodus Of Migrants

Image source: Twitter

The Modi-led Central government declared a nationwide lockdown in March which was later extended a few times due to the continuing grip of the pandemic. Transport services were also suddenly stopped during this. 

This came as a major setback for daily wage workers and migrant workers. They lost their jobs and livelihood. Many were forcefully evicted from their homes, forcing them to return to their native places to work in their farms or jobs under the MGNREGA. 

Several journalists captured pictures of the migrant workers travelling back to their native places on foot with luggage and little children. 

Many migrant workers were reported dead on the way due to dehydration, heatstroke, and starvation.

In Maharashtra, about 16 migrants, who were sleeping on the railway tracks during the migration were killed by a speeding train in early May 2020. 

As per reports, at least 300 migrant workers died due to reasons ranging from accidents, suicides, exhaustion, starvation and other factors during this period. Government issues directives. 

 The Home Ministry permitted the states to use the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) for providing food and shelter to the migrants from 28th March 2020.

Landlords were ordered not to force the collection of rents during the lockdown due to the loss of income of the tenants. 

To stop the exodus, the government set up 37,978 relief camps and 26,225 food camps. 

Eventually, the government arranged buses and Shramik Special trains to take the migrants back to their places. Even then, there were reports of more deaths.

5. Nirbhaya Rapists Execution, Debates On Death Penalty

Image: BP creatives

Four convicts in the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape case - Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta - were executed by the judiciary in March this year. 

The first three months of the year saw a tug-of-war between the four men and Nirbhaya's mother Asha Devi. 

Each convict filed their legal remedy one-by-one to delay their execution, in the form of mercy petitions. Once the mercy petition is filed before the president and if he or she rejects it then the convicts will be given 14 days to prepare for the execution. 

The four men separately filed their respective mercy petitions followed by a death warrant, giving them 14 days each. Thus, they delayed their executive by over three months. 

Amidst all this, Indian media saw a cacophony of debates regarding the death penalty for brutal crimes.

Human rights groups and feminist organisation continue to dissent against the judicial killing of criminals stating that, innocent people have been executed before in various countries. 

When it comes to brutal crimes like rapes and gangrapes, feminist groups dissented that the focus should be on stopping such crimes instead of killing the criminals and the death penalty serves only as a "distraction" to actual social justice. 

Over a hundred human rights and women's rights activists wrote to the president, requesting him to accept the four men's mercy pleas and change their sentence to life in prison. 

Indira Jaising took to social media to request Asha Devi, Nirbhaya's mother to pardon the four men. The infuriated Asha Devi slammed Jaising for her comments. 

After their legal remedies were exhausted, four men were executed simultaneously. 

6. Girls Humiliated For Menstruating In Gujarat College

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A Gujarat college made it to news headlines for strip-searching over 60 girls to check if they were menstruating. 

As per reports, in the highly conservative Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI), menstruating girls were mistreated. They were given separate places and have been instructed to sit away from others. 

Bhuj police filed an FIR and the Principal Rita Raninga, girls’ hostel rector Ramilaben Hirani, college peon Naina Gorasiya and one Anita Chauhan, were arrested. 

This led to conversations and protests against the mistreatment of menstruating girls and women. 

Menstruating women were deemed "as impure." Certain communities still coerce women and girls not to touch water, given separate utensils, and are instructed to lie in separate rooms. 

A religious fundamentalist man said to the media that if a menstruating woman cooks then she will be reborn as a dog while men who consume the food she made will be reborn as an ox. 

Women took to Twitter to slam his statement by comparing themselves with cute and carefree dogs/puppies. 

The Inhuman custom of menstrual huts has still been reported in rural areas.

Activist and Entrepreneur Aditi Gupta, founder of Menstrupedia, said in a media channel that menstruation is a human rights issue due to the fact that the social ostracisation and lack of resources, force girls to drop out of school.

Unlike in men, menstruation, as a biological process, is something women cannot control. 

Rachita Taneja, activist and artist, argued that menstrual taboos are just men's way of controlling and dehumanising women. 

7. Femicide In Turkey, Women Fighting For Their Lives 

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The brutal murder of a 27-year-old student Pınar Gültekin by her rumoured boyfriend Cemal Metin Avci led to massive protests against femicide in Turkey.

Femicide, as a term as defined by author Diana E. H. Russell, denoting men killing women or girls because they are females. Femicide is a hate crime driven by hatred towards women. 

The femicide rate in nations such as Turkey and Mexico made it the number one news.

In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) tried to roll back legislation that protects women from brutal forms of violence like femicide, saying that they affect traditional family values. 

Added to that, the majority of Turkish politicians reiterated their views about women being inferior to men and don't deserve equal rights. 

AKP deputy chair Numan Kurtulmuş slammed the Istanbul Convention, which is meant to protect women. 

Women took to the streets to protest against the femicide and the government's misogyny. They were also supported by many boys and men. 

Fidan Ataselim, campaign group 'We Will Stop Femicide’s general secretary, said that the femicide rate is also due to more women earning rights to urban and public spaces. Most men are against women who go to college and earn a decent living. 

Added to that, husbands kill their wives for not giving birth to boys or for going to work against his wishes. 

Women took to social media to start the trend #womensupportingwomen by sharing black and white pictures of themselves, citing that they could be next in the obituary section. 

8. Sushant Singh Rajput Suicide Conjured Nepotism Debate

Image credit: Twitter

Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his Mumbai apartment in June 2020. What followed was that Bollywood, as an industry, underwent a form of reckoning. 

As an outsider, Rajput was believed to have been sidelined by the Bollywood movie industry for the star kids. This led to nepotism debate, rhetoric conjured by his colleague Kangana Ranaut. 

Production houses, notably Yash Raj and Dharma faced public anger for promoting star kids. 

Several stars such as Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Ananya Panday, Sara Ali Khan, and others have been trolled for being star kids. Alia Bhatt was forced to shut down the comment in her social media handles. 

Her film 'Sadak 2' directed by her father Mahesh Bhatt, who is allegedly responsible for Rajput's suicide, was bombarded with dislikes on YouTube and became the worst-reviewed film. 

Karan Johar, often dubbed as a flag bearer of nepotism, has also been trolled on social media. He also faced legal charges for trying to remove Rajput from a film. 

At the same time, due to Rajput's past drug habits, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) launched an investigation on several Bollywood celebrities to check the "drug mafia" operating in and out of the industry. 

Rajput's then-girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty was arrested. Deepika Padukone, Shraddha Kapoor, Arjun Rampal and Sara Ali Khan were questioned by the NCB for alleged drug consumption. 

The investigations are still going on. 

9. Poland Abortion Ban And Protests

Image source: Twitter

The Woman's right to safe and legal reproductive health is still a matter of scrutiny in many countries. Nations led by conservative governments deny the right to abortion even in case of rape and incest. 

In the US, the Trump administration is making a move to overturn Roe vs Wade, which will ban abortion in the country. 

A case in El Salvador, where a minor rape survivor was arrested and jailed for suffering from a miscarriage earned scrutiny. 

Poland, this year, saw massive protests by women on the streets against introducing a strict abortion ban. 

Protests broke out after Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that an existing law allowing abortions of malformed foetuses was unconstitutional.

Tribunal’s president Julia Przylebska had defended this move by saying that abortions in such cases will deny the unborn child, right to dignity. 

After this, thousands of women have stormed the streets of Poland, protesting a recent court ruling.

Many women dressed themselves as characters from 'A Hand Maiden's Tale' which is about using women as "bodies to make babies."

After the protests, Poland delayed the abortion ban. As of 27 November 2020, abortion is permitted if; 

  1. The woman's life or health is endangered by pregnancy.
  2. When the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act.
  3. When there is a high probability of severe and irreversible fetal impairment.

10. Black Lives Matter Protests

Image source: Instagram

'Black Lives Matter' movement was formed after a white police officer, who shot and killed a black teenager named Trayvon Martin was acquitted of murder charges. 

The year 2020 saw the uprising of a revolution after a white police officer named Derek Chauvin killed a black man named George Floyd, by pinning him on the ground with his knee on his neck, choking him.

A viral video showed Floyd pleading by saying that "I can't breathe." Chauvin was on him for several minutes until Floyd died. The whole crime took place because Floyd allegedly used a fake dollar note. This crime led to protests because Chauvin was not suspended until the video became viral, leading to public anger. He was arrested only after people took to the streets to protest. 

Three other officers who were witnesses to the crime were also arrested after the riots and looting by protestors. 

Floyd's death escalated the 'Black Lives Matter' movement. Major brands expressed solidarity and donated to the cause. Hollywood celebrities helped the protestors get bail funding them with money and lawyers. 

People shared black background images on social media as part of "blackout Tuesday”. 

Brands that stereotype black people changed their logos and caricatures' notably Aunt Jemima and Cream Of Wheat. 

Major beauty brands that marketed fairness as beauty changed their ideals. Hindustan Unilever announced that their popular brand 'Fair and Lovely' will now be called 'Glow and Lovely.'

In the US, politicians and representatives made moves to defund the police and invest more in groups that deal with minority affairs. 

It is because the police have been harassing Black people over "suspicions" and even incarcerated them for longer periods. 

11. JK Rowling Transphobic Comments

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The Trans People who lookup to JK Rowling as their childhood idol expressed deep disappointment after she came out with her strong anti-trans views. 

It started with her making fun of an article's headline for using the phrase "people who menstruate" instead of women. 

Rowling defended her views by stating that, if sex is not acknowledged then women's experiences and reality will be erased. 

She wrote a long essay in her blog expressing her concerns about modern-day trans activism, which can leave women vulnerable to male violence because men can enter women's spaces by dressing as women. 

Because the new Gender Recognition Act (GRA) will permit trans identity without the need to transition. 

She expressed how trans activism will confuse children. 

Rowling's views on how transitions are fuelled by homophobia and social misogyny were deemed as harmful because trans people are the most vulnerable sections of society. 

Her views were slammed by several activists and critics. 

'Harry Potter' stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Katie Leung, Evanna Lynch and Eddie Redmayne, slammed her views and reiterated support for trans people. 

Rowling continues to express her anti-trans by lending her support to detransitioners. 

12. Hathras Gangrape

Image source: Twitter

A 19-year-old Dalit girl was brutally gang-raped and tortured by four privileged caste men in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. What followed was a painful denial of voice and justice

She succumbed to her mortal injuries weeks later, leading to public anger because of the police handling of the case and lack of proper examination by medical authorities. 

The inhuman nature of the atrocity came in the form of the authorities' handling of the girls' body which was burnt at midnight in the absence of her family. 

Later, the police denied rape citing a post mortem report which highlighted the absence of semen inside her. This report was challenged because no medical examination was conducted on the girl for at least a week. The FIR itself was filed after outrage on social media. 

After the girl's body was burnt, the Hathras area was declared as a COVID-19 containment and denied both reports and opposition party leaders to enter the place to meet girls' parents. 

This was revoked after several BJP leaders raised their objections, notably by Uma Bharti. 

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that the perpetrators will be nabbed after Special Investigation and assured justice to the girl. 

Four men, named by the victim in her dying declaration were arrested. 

This led to protests from Thakur community who demanded their release and for a fair probe. 

The investigations on the case are still going on. Apart from the Hathras case, Uttar Pradesh reported several other cases of rapes and gang-rapes in Balrampur, Bulandshahar, Azamgarh, Amethi, and Lakhimpur (which included three cases of sexual violence against minors).

UP is regarded as the most hostile state for women and girls, by the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) 2019 data.

13. Love Jihad Law 

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The murder of a girl named Nikita Tomar by her boyfriend led to outrage on social media. The case was dubbed as "love jihad" by the right-wing because the perpetrator was a Muslim and he allegedly committed the crime because the girl refused to convert.

The right-wing section highlighted several cases where women and girls were killed or harassed over their refusal to convert to Islam by their husbands or lovers. 

Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh governments said that they will introduce laws to stop forced conversions. 

"Love Jihad" is a right-wing term used to describe interfaith relationships with a Muslim man where the woman is coerced to convert.

UP CM Yogi Adityanath said that he will take action against love jihad and cited in Allahabad verdict which annulled a marriage because the woman converted for the sake of marriage.

UP passed the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020. 

Under this law, several inter-faith marriages between Muslim men and Hindu women were stopped. 

Muslim men were arrested based on complaints from parents of the women where they alleged that women are coerced into marriage and conversion. However, this also conjured concerns because of possible misuse of the law. 

This law as well as the rhetoric around “love jihad” earned criticisms because the law permits adults to choose who they want to marry. The constitution does not define love jihad, and also, India has a Special Marriage Act, which permits inter-faith marriages without religious conversion, where women can still retain their rights to parental property. 

14. Farmers' Protests

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The months of November and December 2020 saw farmers from Punjab and Haryana taking to the streets to protest against the central government's three new farm laws. 

  1. Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, 
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020,
  3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.

The laws were passed without a proper vote from the opposition which was a major controversy earlier this year. The opposition, notably the Trinamool Congress protested against the law which will be removing the mandi system and permit contracts directly with corporations. 

Farmers are demanding the full rollback of the laws because it will make them vulnerable before the corporates and possible removal of MSP (Minimum Support Price). 

However, the central government continues to vehemently defend the laws by stating that they are for the farmers' financial benefits and more commercial freedom. 

More talks are going on between the centre and leaders of farmers' groups. 

15. Rough Sex Defense In UK

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In the form of a major push for women's rights, the United Kingdom has removed or outlawed the 'rough sex defences in their domestic abuse bill. 

Earlier, men used the defences to get lenient sentences in cases where sexual assault of women led to their death. 

Criminologist Dr Elizabeth Yardley mentioned in her research called ‘sex games gone wrong’ that 'rough sex' earned men just three years of prison time in cases that should get them life imprisonment. 

She highlighted the  Natalie Connolly case where the perpetrator John Broadhurst brutally assaulted her and raped her with a bottle, resulting in 40 different types of injuries on her body. Broadhurst got just three years in prison and this led to protests by women's rights groups against rough defences.

An organisation named 'We Can’t Consent To This' (WCCTT) documented at least 60 dead women and several others injured in such cases. 

Fiona Mackenzie, the WCCTT founder, said that some of the members knew such victims and wanted to save other women.

'Rough sex' often comes in the context where either man or woman desires rough physical intercourse or in the context of BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Sadism/Masochism).

The WCCTT had argued that women's desire for rough sex should not be used by men to hurt her. There should be a thick boundary between consent and rape, said WCCTT.