• My Lord, May I protest? Understanding the Right Way to Protest

    "Demonstrations on the road are necessary but these have no ‘Chhoo-Mantar’ solutions for our problems."

    Asma Anjum Khan

    October 26, 2017

     

    “Anger is a negative emotion, but to feel a right anger and to the right degree and to the right person is a righteous action,” Aristotle the Master of Metaphor, states. But did he also tell us ‘how to’ of expressing that anger?

    Or say, Protest.

    The protest is the only strong weapon available to an ordinary individual when faced with injustice. Living is a protest against death and death is a protest against life. Our whole existence today has become a protest. Protest makes us realise who we really are and what we stand for.

    Unfortunately, though we are turning into zombies who have learned to be silent even at the most crucial of junctures in our community life; out of fear, apathy or plain laziness. It’s also true that one man’s protest is another man’s conquest.

    Are we allowing our oppressor this conquest, born out of our silence and inaction?

    But what are the best ways to protest? Would we be successful? Would our protests achieve the desired goals?

    Some questions are without any fixed answers.

    Once upon a time, protests meant boycotts, morchas and marches, moun vrats, fasts, sloganeering, Rasta-roko, Jail-bharo or at the least tying black bands on your arms. After being blessed with ‘Ache Din’; singing a song, watching a film, reading a book, sharing a meme, painting your nails and eating beef (if you are brave) have become ‘kind’ of protests. Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Take a Knee’ has sent shivers down the spine of Trumpistan. Not a day passes when people don’t protest. But do they succeed in making a difference? In the din of 100+ protests a day, let’s try seeing what could be the intrigues of a genuine protest.

    Coming on the streets to show dissent; in our parts of the world, the sub-continent, was always precarious. Mahatma Gandhi did it. Jinnah did it. We have been doing it too. But the price we paid was heavy.

    Mahatma had his share of regrets. Nirad Chaudhury in his, Thy Hand Great Anarch! India 1921-51; writes about this;

    “During all these movements the people acted in their own way without paying any heed to his (Gandhi’s) admonitions about non-violence and abjuration of hatred. Nobody was more aware of this than Gandhi himself. Once at least he spoke of his Himalayan blunder.( 1988: 878)”

    Fast unto death was Mahatma Gandhi’s way of trying to make the British kneel to his demands. Interestingly, Nirad Chaudhury who could never resist an opportunity to make a critique of Mahatma’s ways; in one of his tomes also describes that whenever he used to declare one of his fasts unto death, people would rather anticipate his martyrdom, and when this didn’t happen, felt disappointed.

    But you must agree you need to be driven, strong-willed and truly determined an individual for carrying out FUD. Barring some respectable and truthful exceptions, FUDs have transformed into fasting in a cycle. Mahesh will do it on a Wednesday, Anil on a Thursday, Fridays for the next in line. It’s modern-day FUD.

    Effective? Yes, from morning till evening.

    So which is the best form of making and registering a protest?

    After seventy years, things have changed. Protests however genuine in their old format are not fetching results, barring a few instances. The big issue today is what should constitute as a protest; that is thought to bring some change, some positive results, or at least succeeds in attracting some good attention? Painting your nails, posting a selfie with Tajmahal in the background, singing a song and etc, can bring attention and a spark to the issue briefly until we get hit on by the next.

    In the long run, however, for a sound solution, we need to rise above this.

    NDTV journalist Srinivasan Jain in a Facebook post, after journalist Gauri Lankesh murder writes;
    I stand, like most of my tribe, in full solidarity with the protests. Have been to several of them as well. But seriously – what end does it serve, beyond solidarity? Do we think that powers that be will be moved by vaguely worded demands for justice, or sloganeering that we will not be silenced? As long as the protests remain at the Press Club, and in *no way* reflect in our journalism, the answer is no. Power does not care about protests. Power will only take note if we snap out of business as usual mode.

    Protests in their old usual static form no longer work, he feels. Later in the post he writes generating finance for fighting the cases against the journalists, for setting up unbiased non-prejudiced media forums have become a must.

    Wise words.

    Yes, we have issues, we may have tremendous amounts of anger over our grievances, even over a cartoon, but if we give in to the temptation of taking ‘this’ as a license to take to the streets, then we are committing hara-kiri.

    Remember a cartoon for a cartoon, a poem for a poem, a book for a book. This is the fitting response.

    Demonstrations on the road are necessary but these have no ‘Chhoo-Mantar’ solutions for our problems. These congregations can be good indicators of public anger but often don’t move beyond that. Sheer apathy, arrogance and cold nonchalance from the quarters that hold power, induces a feeling of extreme helplessness among the noble crusaders who feel they can ‘still’ bring a change. Hope is eternal.

    We all develop defence mechanisms to ignore and adjust with small or big injustices in our lives. But a point comes when we protest.

    It is the hallmark of a living being; of one who is truly living and respects his and reality and rights of others. Today our whole human existence radiates from injustice. Look around, and you might know what I mean.

    Also, protesting about an injustice automatically translates into a protest against all such injustices. Some intellectuals say Indian Muslims need not worry about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. This can be problematic. Who would feel my pain if I don’t correspond in the same currency? How can we expect support for our murders in pogroms, riots and lynchings, if we are immune to the pain of others?

    Palestine is the mother of all protests. One who protests the occupation the genocide and oppression of innocent people in a given country sends a message that he/she opposes such acts of violence everywhere else.

    Confronting the problem and the oppressor are important. After a symbolic dharna, sit out and memorandums one can try focusing the attention towards ‘Capacity Building’. When you are a minority and have issues that can fill a train, you can’t afford to sit on the platform of dharnas all through the year; instead, you become pragmatic and do something that would prove to be valuable in the long run.

    Long candlelight vigils, sit outs, shout outs, standouts, have their own significance and place but can we also think and plan on working for those same hours alongside? This can be done on our own or on some planned collective projects(Like helping to clean our locality, lending a hand for constructive building projects, teaching kids using your special knowledge, working with elders or people with disabilities etc) and contribute the earnings for the good cause for which the protest is happening. This can help for the rehabilitation of the victims and or any legal expenses involved.

    Normally we get busy in our own lives, after rightly standing for hours, for a cause, for a day or two, but in the end, what matters is, ensuring justice for the victims of abuse, violence or unfairness in as practical a way as possible. We know well justice doesn’t come easy and certainly is not a low-priced commodity.

    What would you prefer standing or shouting slogans nonstop for three hours or working for a reimbursement for those same three hours; where you give away, your hard earned money towards the cause you are holding close to your heart?
    This is doing something concrete and contributing to bring some real change.

    The second option is definitely a practical one and even though no positive results for justice are guaranteed; you have done your thing. You have that elusive precious satisfaction of doing something ‘substantial’. Coming together of people, knowing and working with each other fosters harmony and opens new avenues for future collaborations. The camaraderie, sense of being connected and the bonhomie can work wonders for our community spirit.

    Malcolm X that rare maverick had ‘detonated’ the famous Washington March of 1964 by terming it a ‘Master Lesson’ about how a movement gets weakened by forces opposed to your cause. In his usual and brutal style, he called it a circus, an outing, a picnic. We don’t need to agree with him but the bullets he draws against ‘The Farce in Washington’ are thoughts to provoke.

    The point worth ten billions is ,if we are facing hundreds of issues on a daily basis, if we understand the” Perils of Protest” on an Indian street [especially for the vulnerable groups of the society] , if we understand the frustrating futility of being ‘on the road’ where the only purpose being served is just that,i.e. ‘Being on the Road’; then sooner or later a time comes to think about the most constructive thing for helping and advancing our cause. What is better, loitering for long hours on and around the roads, shouting or silent and feeling frustrated at the same time? Or working on a well-planned project or on our own, towards the set goal of capacity building that also helps to instil and reviving our lost community spirit?

    We don’t have heroes among ourselves, who with their symbolic protest send a powerful message across. But we can hope to build our own variety through our coming together in positive and fruitful ways of capacity building and community sharing and send our protests to whomsoever it concerns, in the most meaningful way.


     

    The author is based in Maharashtra and has written for various prestigious national and international publications and websites on social, ethical, and gender-related issues.

    First published in Sabrang India.

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

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