The Rise of a Culture of Protests:

Anomitra Paul

Culture of protest

A spirit of dissent is something that has existed since the inception of the idea of structured governance and an organized hierarchical order. In the throes of civil strife, the common masses have always found themselves at the compromised end of the bargaining table, be it under imperial rule or as citizens of a democratic welfare state flexing its nuclear muscles.

In India today, Shaheen Bagh, an entire locality in South Delhi, has become a symbol of national resistance against the country's discriminatory citizenship laws. Students, women and children across religious and cultural lines have camped out on the streets for over 40 days, demanding repeal of the laws that deny citizenship to one religious minority. The picture is reminiscent of China's Tiananmen Square in 1989, where students shed blood and tears in their quest for democratic principles.

In India, chants of 'azaadi' reverberate in colleges and universities throughout the country. By now, we all have an acquaintance who has been detained by the police over the last two months. Initially, the movement looked like a niche for students and liberals, the same bubble movement which harshly criticized the BJP's motives before it garnered national power, the one which was deeply frustrated when Kashmir's separate identity was taken away and its internet cut off, a picture of indignation. But as time passed, the sections of society who will bear the brunt of the contentious citizenship law began to move to the forefront. In Shaheen Bagh, workers from all over the country have assembled to make themselves heard. In a country where women barely leave the home and haveminimal brushing with politics, seeing thousands of them flooding out in the streets to preserve the ground under their feet is indeed remarkable.

The most recent mass protest which caused waves and yielded results in terms of people's movement is the prolonged furore in Hong Kong, which started out with the government's proposed extradition laws which would send convicts from Hong Kong to China for trial. The movement expanded in scope and laid out a string of demands to push the political envelope and take a step towards democracy. Among the demands were the adoption of universal suffrage and to make the people's legislature an elected body.

The body count, injuries, arrests and disappearances add up to 3,000. But Hong Kong is attempting to give this pro-democracy thrust a permanent nature. Like France's yellow vests, these protesters do not rest.

Culture of protest

In the most turbulent part of the world, the people of Iran and Lebanon have been at loggerheads with their autocratic governments, demanding employment, political liberalisation, and an end to Islamic fundamentalism. The dissent has more often than not been suppressed with brutal military crackdown by the state.

The late 2019 Sudanese Revolution has yielded the most effective result so far, with military strongman Omar al-Bashir being deposed after eight months of sustained civil disobedience which led to scores of massacres emanating from clashes between the military and civilians.

Radicalisation is a term which is used lightly in today's scenario. It has a strict correlation with undermining of minority interests. Nicholas III, the last emperor of Russia was shot along with his wife Alexandra Fedorova and their four children by the Bolshevik revolutionaries for failing the people of his country. Now, that is an act ofradicalisation. Simplifying the aggressiveness of the protester or reducing a confrontational spirit to vandalism does not a radical make. Radicalisation is perhaps only perpetuated by a deep inherent ingraining of social values which targets a particular community.

This only goes to say that it is imperative for all ruling powers to provide space for dissent and ensure that the protesters are not put in a spot where they have to resort to violence. Quoting Alan Moore's 'V for Vendetta', "People shouldn't be afraid of their government, the government should be afraid of its people".