Gandhi’s open disobedience to British salt policies was a unifying theme for his campaign of “satyagraha,” or passive political resistance. England’s Salt Act of 1882 became the anchorage for authentic non-violent civil disobedience. It prohibited the collecting or selling of salt in favour of British imports. Ghandi’s civil disobedience reversed a chain of relationships and remains unlike protests resembling the Yellow Vest that vandalised the Champs-Élysées.  Today, there is no single source of sovereignty from which descending forms flow. Rather, the Me Too Movement and Hong Kong’s Yellow Umbrella Movement surge from a fluid substrate of force relations boiling from the base.

Reclaiming any space for non-violent civil disobedience will require us to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of crisis reportage, fake news and disinformation that “sow discord” on digital platforms. These new technologies reproduce power everywhere, not because power embraces everything, but because power is spread across a loose array of force relations. In 2019, three persons were arrested under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act 1948 for posting deprecating remarks on Facebook about Malaysia’s Sultan Muhammad V. The triad included: Eric Liew Chee Ling, 46, who used the Facebook account name Eric Liew; 27-year-old Azham Akhtar Abdullah who used the @azhamakhtar Twitter handle; and Nur Alia Astaman, 26, who used her @aliaastaman Twitter handle.

Displays of the flag of Navarre that consider the kingdom of Navarre as a precedent of a future Basque state alongside Catalan Flags of Barcelona can distress politicians and the Monarch in Madrid. In “My Seditious Heart”, Arundhati Roy describes flags as bits of coloured fabric used first to shrink-wrap minds and then as burial shrouds. This is true of the black flag of ISIL that spread its plague of propaganda on digital platforms to Zip-locked minds in a maze of misinformation. But Roy also noticed that- writers, painters, musicians and film makers oftentimes suspend their judgment and raise flags critical of the state. In these instances, humanity sits up and pays attention.  Artistic expression in poetry, painting and song have been declared, from time to time, to be inciting rebellion against the authority of the state because they are critical of governments, the monarch or the constitution or military interventions in foreign lands. “Just So” by Chalkdust is one such perilous composition.

Isaiah James Boodhoo once described Caroni as a looping yellow ribbon meandering across flat green geometric forms infused with the aroma of marigolds, agar-batti (incense sticks) and the syrupy smell of burnt cane permeated with perspiration and smoke. Boodhoo’s Caroni paintings evoked the muezzin’s call to prayer from a minaret at sunset, the hum of harmoniums, the drone of pundits chanting Valmiki’s Ramayana, the quizzical sound of a pink conch shell, the sucking of feet being lifted from a flooded rice field, the grunts that convoy the cutting and the lifting and the dragging of canes by hog-cattle blistered with mud and the patient sighs of those in solitude waiting for someone to notice them standing in the sun, rooted in the land.

On a canvas, a single faceless figure fused into the landscape- a man pondering if he will ever receive arrears of emoluments. He stares through the prison bars of cane stalks that surround him and his children. The painting whispers to us the unbearable immensity of being an Indian indentured. The painting was titled- “Caroni Jail”. The cane field had imprisoned its workers- workers waiting in the sludge for salaries outstanding. It was a jail not just for the indentured servants of the state but for their children who had nowhere to turn, no schools to attend. Ken Crichlow was in awe. For them- “India is too far” as Walcott mourned in his- “Saddhu of Couva”. Political art penetrates the public imagination, but is it seditious?

As absolute monarchy tottered under the weight of rising parliamentarians, the world witnessed a shift in the definition and use of offences that involve the intention to incite acts that may disturb constituted authority. Law Review Commissions have examined rebellion against the authority of the state from within a receptacle of laws on counterterrorism, human rights, urging persons to assist the enemy, inciting hate and inter-group violence, political liberty and public order, sowing discord using digital media, journalism and the arts. The outcomes are sweeping.

Since Ghandi walked to the coast of Gujarat and openly made salt from seawater, the Raj and the rest of the world grasped that power is inside the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which diverse actors operate. That power does not have the privilege of consolidating everything under its invincible unity. Power is the overall effect that emerges from a concatenation of mobilities and events. Power is the support which these force relations find in each other through ceaseless struggles that strengthen, alter and reverse these relationships in a chain of contradictions that keep them apart. Power is neither a structure nor an institution. Power is produced from one moment to the next, in every relation from one point to the next within the grid of inequalities that frame the people as they forge their liberty.