Yuva - India

India’s Protest Culture

India is a country which was built through concerted action and consistent rebellions against the Imperial powers which treated us as slaves for so long. Our tallest leaders called for one uprising after another, there were vocal dissenters who fought our colonial masters publicly while silent workers acted behind the scenes to undermine the Britishers’ hold on the populace and our oldest political party, the Indian National Congress, despite its many drawbacks, started out as a pressure group with a wide social base to stir up nationalist movements.

Needless to say, for a nation built through innumerable years of struggle, protests are an inherent part of our democracy.

But how logical is it to call for protests every now and then? Each time the Centre introduces new reforms/laws, there’s a plethora of activists, student leaders, NGO workers who occupy roads for weeks with zero willingness to meet the policymakers halfway. Starting from Land reforms which were introduced in Prime Minister Modi’s first term, to the latest Farm Bills, unnecessary movements are growing in numbers.

I am all for freedom of speech and expression, the right to assemble and protest peacefully, the right to raise one’s voice against the government or its laws: we elected them, it is our right as well as our duty to dissent. However, when dissent turns dangerous, you know there’s something more sinister at play.

Indian universities are often marked by protests. Whether one takes the example of Jadavpur University in 2015 where the Vice-Chancellor stepped down after allegations of sexual harassment, to FTII students protesting against the appointment of Gajendar Chauhan as their chairman, universities are where we learn that everyone has the right to act against any official action which directly affects them (I have quoted these two very diverse examples, varying in gravity, to demonstrate how causes for protests differ).

JNU and DU are famous for their protest culture, especially JNU, where students are never in classes and always on their campus streets, unnecessarily stirring up controversies, starting from Mahishasur Martyrdom day in order to irk Hindus, to protesting against the “judicial killing” of Afzal Guru. It is protests of this nature which should disturb every Indian citizen, considering there is no rhyme or reason for the same.

In 2016, when JNU was in the news for raising slogans such as “Bharat tere tukde honge! (India you will be blown to pieces)”, “Bandook ki nok par lenge aazadi! (We will grab freedom at gunpoint)”, etc. many people criticized the ruling party for being intolerant and unnecessarily cracking down on “student-leaders” and slapping them with sedition charges. The accused members then went on to join politics and become activists, turning out to be the most famous JNUSU members till date. One can still see them stirring up anti-government feelings.

Yet, this culture was not disturbing till India was shaken by the anti-CAA protests, which transitioned into one of the most harrowing communal riots in our recent past.

The contentious Citizenship Amendment Act was brought into the picture in December 2019; with enough misinformation and mobilization of activists who probably did not even understand the law, a mass movement was organized. Which is fair; it is a democracy, and

every individual has the right to protest if their rights are getting affected. However, how these protests evolved from a fight for rights (questionable, since nobody’s rights were actually being violated) to Hindu-Muslim riots, is an example of how twisted mass movements in India can get.

That they are often funded by anti-India elements is a true but highly overlooked fact. Shaheen Bagh residents, most of whom owned shops or worked at one, who barely earned enough in a day to get by, were suddenly comfortable with closing their stores for over a month and protesting. How?

Around the same time, PFI had made large-scale monetary transfers to bank accounts in the name of some of these shop-owners. This connection is hard to miss.

Coming to the latest movement, which has attracted international attention, especially after 26th January 2021- Farmers’ Protests.

Many farmers, all over India, got together in September, when the bills were first introduced. However, most of them calmed down after the pros and cons of these bills were explained to the worried farmers.

Yet, in the last week of November, farmers from high-income areas of Punjab and Haryana got together in Delhi and occupied the roads for 2 months. People who had not even read the bills were putting their weight behind these protestors- all in the name of opposing the ‘tyrannical BJP’. Congress had introduced these laws, AAP notified one in its state and had them in their election manifesto, Rakesh Tikait (BKU Chief) was calling for action against the same laws which his father fought hard to bring in. Despite all the visible political gimmicks and the nefarious agenda, people supported these protests. Again, it is fair considering it was a cause they probably believed in.

However, what disturbed me is the violence unleashed by the mob on Republic Day; on a day to celebrate India, these protestors undermined her through their violence, lawlessness and hoisting of the Nishan Saheb on the Red Fort. I would not have minded the last of these actions. The flag has been hoisted on the monument before and has filled every Indian with great pride. However, on 26th January 2021, the flag was hoisted to undermine the sanctity of our national flag. It was a threatening message from those who want our country destroyed. Why else, would a farmers’ movement go from obliteration of their rights to a particular religion- especially when members of this religion take immense pride in being Indian before anything else?

These movements are all examples of rattled anti-national elements trying to destroy our country from the inside. A strong Nationalist government with 303 seats at the Centre scares them. That they gather support from woke youngsters whose primary source of news is Instagram is a sad reality, and may prove to be problematic in the future, but I still have hope: hope that enough nationalists will continue to exist in this country, so as to not let mindless protestors destroy our democracy.

Dissent is an important part of democracy; it is even necessary, to remind the governments that power always lies with the people, that politicians are just our representatives and that we run this country through them. But that does not mean that we occupy our roads, derail our economy, cause inconvenience to people and call for violent actions just because it seems cool. Protests are deeply embedded in every fibre of India, it is how she came to existence. Therefore, it becomes even more pertinent that something which created India should not be the cause for her destruction.

Bhavya Jha

Intern, Goa Chronicle
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