Discourse on dissent
Protests must never be quelled. They must be resolved.
A disagreement or opposition to a prevailing system in its most initial stage is dissent. In the case of India, the right to dissent is implicit in our fundamental right to freedom which includes freedom of speech and expression, assembly, and association among others. Further, the expression of dissent in various manners, that is protest, is a corollary to this right. Hence, a protest is an exercise of Constitutionally granted civil liberty.
The art of protest
What underlines protest is essentially awareness and discontent, thus, demand for change. A recent demonstration highlighting just this was in Hamburg against the rather perfunctory drill that took place at the G20 summit: no consensus with USA regarding climate protection, non-legally binding resolutions, insisting on the need to interconnect issues and have effective policy measures (without actually ensuring it), some threatening, and adequate amount of 'talks'.
As per reports, "some want the G20 dissolved because they say it doesn't represent any of the countries whose fates are being decided at this summit," while others wanted the focus of the summit to be on climate change. There were also those who wanted rights for specific groups, be they women, refugees or oppressed minorities.
Close to a thousand performance artists called 1000 Gestalten covered themselves in grey pigment and slowly walked through the streets like zombies. The purpose behind this performance was to draw awareness to political apathy and represented political disengagement. After walking, they all removed their grey garb, and underneath were colourful clothes that symbolised becoming engaged and awake. However, notwithstanding the order of the organised and registered groups of demonstrators, some resorted to violence resulting in serious injury and damage.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she had "every understanding for peaceful demonstrations," but that "violent demonstrations endanger human lives, they endanger people themselves, they put police officers and security forces in danger, put residents in danger, and so that is unacceptable."
Against the downsidesof democracy
Donald Trump's leap to Presidency came as an unpleasant surprise to many around the world, and mostly to those in America. Barely a month after his Presidential candidacy was announced, a group of protesters gathered outside of the future Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. to demonstrate and "call for a worldwide boycott of Trump properties and TV shows". This was followed by numerous other demonstrations against Trump, and it continues. In an unusual expression of objection, Trump's Hollywood Walk of Fame star was destroyed in October 2016.
People's resentment persisted even after his election to Presidency which was due to a substantial number of Americans (more than half!) refraining from voting, and a win by a very narrow margin against Hillary Clinton (the genuineness of which is under investigation). Clearly, an electoral victory is not the mandate of the people but a mandate of just the people who voted.
A most democraticallyregistered dissent
The world was first surprised last year when 51.89 per cent British people voted through a referendum to leave the European Union and made Brexit happen despite the affirmed stand of the British establishment to remain with the European Union. In the times of rapid globalisation, the trigger for Brexit stemmed largely from a misplaced and entrenched fear of immigrants making inroads and taking jobs of natives, highlighting a fraying consensus about the benefits of cross-border economic integration.And search for an alternate politics, perhaps.
Impulse, extremes, and desperation
India witnesses a variety in methods of protest. Palestine-inspired stone-pelting in Kashmir inspired protestors in Darjeeling to bring forth their resentment beyond regional domain. This is a virtually unorganised method of protest which definitely garners attention, but due to its highly counter-productive demonstration, does not guarantee any favourable result. Such impulsive acts of frustration, desperation, and/or manipulation also dilute the reasons for protest, making it less effective.
Against that, we have seen some peaceful but persistent protest in several ways by farmers of Tamil Nadu when they came to the national capital and protested for over forty days for a special relief package after the state faced its worst drought in 140 years. Over 100 farmers carried the skulls of those farmers who were driven to suicide due to agricultural crisis. Some wore tree leaves to present their destitution. Some agitating farmers resorted to extreme steps and held live mice and dead snakes in their mouths to demonstrate that they will have to feed on those if the government fails to declare drought relief packages and waive their loans.
A recent campaign under #NotInMyName had civil society gather to raise voice against lynching by cow vigilantes. After the horrendous Nirbhaya incidence of December 2012, the nation saw a formidable extent of participation of hundreds of angry people demanding safety of women. The result was that some much-needed legislation was passed.
A conscience-shaking act of protest that sent shock waves across the nation was in July, 2004, when 12 middle-aged mothers stood naked in front of the Kangla Fort in Imphal with a banner that read 'Indian Army Rape Us'. The Assam Rifles was stationed at Kangla then. The 'naked protest' was against the murder and alleged rape of Thangjam Manorama by Assam Rifles. Subsequently, Assam Rifles vacated the Kangla fort and AFSPA was lifted from seven Assembly areas of Imphal.
Dissent is essential and imperative to the dynamics of democratic functioning. Protests must be respected and not quelled out of a superficial necessity to 'control a situation'. They serve to reorient the vision of governance gone into a rut. The necessity to resolve a protest is an alternate method of checks and balance.
(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. Views are strictly personal.)