Every day while consuming my daily dose of media I come across news regarding some form of protests. For example – recent Minneapolis protests after ‘George Floyd’ incident, protests against the lockdown in the USA, Anti NRC-CAA protests in India, Protests to build a temple or mosque at someplace, protests by students, farmers, laborers against their respective institutes, protest against some movie because it hurt a group’s sentiments or the perpetual protests on issues like unemployment, hunger, Kashmir, etc. People are quick to label these protests as valid or invalid. I have an opinion on each one of these as well. But according to me, a peaceful protest should be always allowed whatever the cause might be, at the least in a democracy.
Why does someone protest?
Protest – “a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something”
We as a society follow certain norms, certain rules that help us function. There is an inherent understanding that everyone is going to hold their end of the deal. And whenever someone fails to hold that end, it creates dissent in the mind of other parties that are stakeholders in that issue. The concept is beautifully summed up by the following quote –
“...legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice–that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another.”
– Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
Whenever these basic principles are broken, it gives a breeding ground to a protest. In my opinion, a protest should be a way to make yourself heard, to make the other party aware of the issue. It should be peaceful. They turn violent when the principles stated above get violated at different intervals and levels. The reasons like authority still not paying heed to the voices, a few anti-social elements taking advantage of the protest to enhance their agendas, etc. can turn the protest into a violent one. A few protests start as an act of revenge when the party affected is enraged by the harm done to them. But it creates a cycle of hatred. An unfair thing happens and someone gets hurt that sows the seeds of vengeance. Even if there’s justice in vengeance, it will only bring more vengeance that will trigger this cycle of hatred. If the principles are upheld by the parties at a later stage as well, this can be stopped. It should not become a tug of war for power in that equation. Equilibrium is the natural state that should be aspired and the power difference should move towards the equilibrium. Now, this equilibrium can only be achieved if the parties work towards repairing the damage and reconstructing those pillars that are providing the strength to the principles.
If the damage is not repaired, because of the inequitableness the less powerful group is bound to feel alienated and they may stop believing altogether in the norms.
As John F. Kennedy famously said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Speaking about the neutrals, People have different opinions or reactions to these protests or sometimes they don’t care at all. For example, In India after the lockdown, when the migrant laborers were stuck in different states devoid of income and hence food, they wanted to go back to their home states. A lot of people set their journey on foot traveling thousands of miles when the government failed to provide them relief. A few protested in order to get themselves heard. There were videos circulating online showing these laborers doing wreckage of the property. We were condemning these actions and asking why these people can’t just stay put like us. But then there was a video of a little girl trying to wake her dead mother who passed away because of hunger on a railway platform. Had she reached her village a few days earlier, her life could have been saved. What I’m trying to say is that there is a clear lack of perspective among the neutrals. It’s generally present in the category of “haves” and “have nots”. To understand someone’s pain, you must know pain. And when we have never experienced that pain, we fail to acknowledge the pain of others. We don’t generally react or act unless something affects us personally. Most people weren’t really taking the pandemic seriously in the initial days. But try to ask people who lost their loved ones to this disease. Even as a third party, we should be informed about the issue from both sides before outrightly condemning or supporting a protest.
Do share your views.