E P Jayarajan, when he was Kerala’s sports minister, had mistaken the legendary Muhammad Ali for some Kerala sporting icon only he had any inkling of.
So it is not clear whether the LDF convener has any idea what the colour black stands for in the history of modern political rebellion, or even about the Left, anti-establishment ‘Black Bloc’ protests that regularly sow chaos at major capitalist summits like the G20 and WTO and symbolically vandalises capitalist symbols like big banks and multinational chains.
But, like a rodent or a snake that could feel an earthquake long before the earth splits open from below, the politician in Jayarajan seems to have sensed something ominous in black. “Why are you so adamant about wearing a black mask? Why are you so insistent on wearing a black shirt? Have you ever worn a black mask,” he told reporters who asked him why the police prohibited anything black, including black umbrellas, at public functions attended by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on June 11.
Black was considered so provocative that two trans women who came wearing black to board the Kochi Metro, where the Chief Minister was to inaugurate a private lab, were forcibly shifted to the nearest police station. Black suddenly emerged as the symbol of a plot against the Chief Minister. Ironically, the Chief Minister’s official vehicle, ‘Kerala State 1’, is as glossy black as a black racer snake.
The CPM leaders are not the only ones squirming at the sight of black. Less than four months ago, the police had asked people attending the public rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Pune, Maharashtra, to remove black masks, black handkerchiefs and even black sunglasses. Here in Kerala, the police seized black masks but had given masks of other colours in return.
What Pinarayi’s and Modi’s governments have demonstrated is more a fear of black than disgust of the white supremacist’s kind.
Even if ‘Black Bloc’ activities have not been reported in India, its global protest tactics have instilled fear in the minds of the leaders of capitalist and emerging economies who have demonstrated fascist and authoritarian tendencies. The Black Blocs had for instance messed up the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, where it was said neo-Nazi sentiments were gradually rearing its head. The 2023 G20 summit will be in India. ‘Black Bloc’ protests are one of the security concerns that have been flagged.
Black Blocs are anarchists who swarm a venue and stage anti-fascist and anti-Nazi protests fully covered in black. Unlike the people who were blocked by the police in Kochi and Kottayam on June 11 for just wearing a black mask or for possessing only a black umbrella, these protesters are decked up from toe to head in black; shoes, robes, face masks, hoods, glasses and even helmets.
They are like black apparitions, their identities safe inside the black.
However, ‘black mask’ protests acquired a more profound aura, though still anarchist in an inspiring way, after the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan. From the last week of May 2022, in a rousing show of protest, male news anchors in Afghanistan started sporting black masks during live shows and political programmes in protest against the Taliban’s diktat asking female news anchors to cover their faces while reading news.
It was last month that Afghanistan’s supreme leader and chief of Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, asked women to cover up fully in public, their faces not spared. The Taliban’s Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice then expanded the order to include women television presenters, too.
Given the context, Jayarajan’s poser to a journalist, ‘have you ever worn a black mask’, acquires a whole new meaning. What he perhaps meant was that it was weird to wear a black mask. But he could also have been asking whether the CPM under Pinarayi Vijayan was acting like the Taliban to force anyone to wear a black mask in protest.
In a way, like the Taliban, the police were asking citizens to adhere to a certain dress code.