We Love Protests
By Poonam I Kaushish
What is with us Indians? Why are we so blasé’ about protest which turn violent? About vandalism? Why do hooligans always get the better of us? Is it symptomatic of the free-for-all which has gripped the country? Is violence fast becoming the rhetoric of our times? Questions which bombard like staccato gunshots when we talk of the mayhem which has ensnared the country in its vicious tentacles.
So lucidly brought to the fore over the last three weeks since protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens, National Population Register or JNU”s fee hike began leaving many dead, injured and counting. In UP over 24 have died, 58 people and 269 policemen, 405 country-made pistols seized, alongside a few dead and some hurt in West Bengal, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
But Union Capital Delhi was the worst hit when protests metamorphed into larger than life when university students of Jamia Millia, Aligarh University, Delhi University and JNU took to the streets over the CAA alongwith fee hike in JNU resulting in havoc.
Last week’s Bloody Sunday saw over 50 “unidentified masked goons” entering the campus, going on a 3-4 hours rampage, injuring over three dozen including students and teachers with stones, rods and sticks, vandalising hostels leaving blood-stains and broken glass shards as they escaped . With the police standing as mute spectators till the University’s administration asked for help. A case against seven has been filed and a committee set-up to investigate.
Predictably, for the Opposition it presented another opportunity to corner the Modi Sarkar, take it to task and add fuel to fire as it gave them the opportunity to milk and exploit citizens angst and sentiments. In the hope of garnering attention and getting votes. “The Government has shown utter disregard for people’s voices and is using brute force to suppress dissent.”
Sure, protest is an exciting word, the sustenance of democracy and a catchphrase for free speech. It connotes peaceful march against issues from the mundane to dastardly, injustice meted out by authorities, against a law, aggression by the police, inaction by those in authority and what is perceives as encroaching on their freedom.
Turn North, South, East or West the story is the same. In fact, no day passes without a strike somewhere or an arrest for intolerable behaviour. Be it a mohalla, district or State. Arguably, not a few would simply shrug it off with “sab chalta hai attitude, many would assert ki pharak painda hai. The cause is immaterial. It is all about registering ones protest, the louder the better. Success is measured in terms of causing maximum dislocation and discomfiture to people.
Sadly, the word has acquired a new acronym, violence which has become the rhetoric of our times. Pick any newspaper or surf any TV channel any day. Splashes of social schism gore into news headlines. Curse all you want, it’s for a cause, remember. Undoubtedly, India thrives on protests. Which has perfected the old saying “jiski laathi uski bhains”!
However, protests cannot or should not become a license to be violent, harm, blackmail, damage or be used for political opportunism. More than three weeks have passed since the bloody protests over these issues. Visuals of thousands on streets with lathis, stones, bricks, petrol bombs and arms made for charismatic pictures; the same What’s App and tweeted many times had a multiplier effect.
Questionably, why and how did they turn from being peaceful to violent, a free-for all? Importantly, is violence trying to hijack democracy by vicious blackmail and mobocracy? Can a few people, rabble-rousers or thousands come out on streets and hold a mohalla, district or city to ransom by burning buses, vandalising public property, damaging private vehicles, succinctly creating mayhem all cloaked as defending democracy? Sic. Is it correct?
What message is this dangerous descent into anarchy sending out? That the Constitution and Parliament are not supreme and nobody has the patience for courts as proceedings are never ending, thus it is easier to indulge in violence which then rules the roost. Whereby, violence becomes a certificate for dissent all cloaked as defending democracy. QED.
What did the protesters achieve? Newspaper headlines and some brownie points. Only the aam aadmi and innocent security men became targets. All forget that violence does not achieve anything, no matter what the provocation, the rule of law cannot be made to go for a toss. Nothing justifies violence or the call for dangerous descent into anarchy.
More. It is time we took a hard look at our gun laws, notwithstanding the recent amendment. The manner in which gun licences are issued in UP is a pointer to the growing culture of violence. Today nearly 7.5 lakh people are licensed to carry arms and nearly three lakh applicants are pending clearance from the district magistrate. Interesting most of the applicants have a political mai baap. Imagine, out of 425 legislators in the State, over 165 MLAs have criminal record.
In far flung Kerala, too, there is complete political subversion of the rule of law. The probability of a arsonist or rioter to be brought to book is an unbelievable 0.3 per cent, according to a recent report of the Intelligence Branch of the Kerala State Police. In other words, those arrested in 99.68 per cent of such cases are discharged by courts for one reason or another.
True, the right of the citizen is paramount. But at the same time mob violence is a dangerous trend. If this trend goes unchecked society will get dangerously fragmented. We need to remember India was conceived as a democratic country and protests are part of our right but no person, group or organization can threaten or indulge in violence, and if they do, they should lose their democratic right to be heard.
We need to understand that democracy is neither mobocracy nor a license to create bedlam. It is a fine balance between rights and duties, liberties and responsibilities. One’s freedom pre-supposes another’s responsibilities and liberty. Paralysing the State, to get attention and policy reversals only exasperates the public and inconveniences them. Using violent means gets one nowhere as temporary respite is no answer for building a socially cohesive society.
Where does India go from here? In a milieu wherein adoption of strong-arm tactics to extract one’s pound of flesh has become second nature, it is time to cry a halt. Kudos, to the Government for asserting that those who indulged in mob violence will have to pay for damages to public property.
Time to realise that democracy is not a harlot to be picked up in the street by a man with a gun. Remember, coercion has a thousand fathers but liberty is an orphan. We are a civilized democracy and cannot destroy it as we shape New India. Violence is unacceptable. What do you say? —— INFA