PROTESTS: SOLIDARITY, RATIONALITY AND WHAT NOT?
Author: Anushka Singhal, I year of B.A., LL.B.(Hons.) from Symbiosis Law School, Noida
“To keep silent when we should protest, makes cowards of men”, said Abraham
Lincoln. Protests are always thought of as a right as well as the duty of humans to voice their opinion. Whenever there is injustice in the society people voice their concerns. Whenever there is tyranny or whenever the society feels that a law is not in social interest, they have to protest. What was the very first protest that comes to our mind? The very first prominent protest that we can think of is the protest by the Protestants in the 16th century. Since then we have witnessed several protests ranging from the Salt March to the Arab Spring and from the Anti -Corruption movement by Anna Hazare to the Black Lives Matter.
Humans have come together when and whenever needed to fight for injustice and to rule out tyranny. According to Rousseau, “law is the expression of the general will. Law is a resolution of the whole people for the whole people, touching a matter that concerns all." The law must relate to the general interest. Whenever people feel that the laws do not reflect their will, they gather, raise slogans, disrupt work and ensure that justice prevails. Article 19 of the Indian constitution gives us the right to freedom of speech and expression and thus the ‘right to protest.’
The Dynamics of Collective Action project considers the repertoire of protest tactics (and their definitions) to include:] rally, vigil, march, civil disobedience, picket and ceremony.[i] ‘Different are the people and different is their mode of expression’. The motive of all these demonstrations is the same i.e. to showcase dissent. Mode and mannerism differ throughout. In the 21st century, we usually observe demonstrations confined either to a group or section. But in history, we have observed some very great movements where all strata of people gathered and fought against injustice. Who thought that Gandhi would be followed by thousands of people when he commenced his journey from Sabarmati? Mass gatherings and manufacturing of salt at Dandi showcased the real power of the public. Gandhi was known for non-violent protests but we have also witnessed such protests where ammunition was used. Arab Springs in the 2010 and 2011 involved all the tactics needed to put an end to tyranny and secure basic rights for all. We had people with weapons, slogans and determination all cross Tunisia, Bahrain, Morocco etc. demanding justice. According to Austin, “Law is the command of sovereign marked by sanction”. His sovereign is immutable and unquestionable. Austin’s definition has little meaning in the present times. Sovereign has to be questioned whenever he goes against the general will.
But considering the protests only pious, justice-oriented and productive would be like thinking fire to be only a utility. Sovereign already represents the collective will and not all his decisions are wrong. Sometimes we indulge in unnecessary protests leading to anomie (A state of normlessness as propounded by Durkheim). How can we justify those protests which lead to mass violence, destruction, loss of life and normlessness? How can we justify those protests which wear a veil of innocence and underneath plan something malicious? See, altogether there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ protest. If you see something from your spectacles then it might look different, if you see from mine, it might seem different and perhaps if you see with your naked eyes, you might get a different view. 2020, made us witness several such demonstrations. Even Covid, could not hamper people’s determination. Even the masks could not suppress their feelings; faces were covered but motives were clear. Thailand 2020 protests led by students garnered worldwide attention. Who thought that killing a black man would attract so much dissent from the ‘white’ American society? ‘Black Lives Matter’ was the earthquake that shook America and its aftershocks were observed back in India. ‘Fair and Lovely’ became ‘glow and Lovely’. The power of a protest is ultimate. It has an epicentre but the effect is not confined.
Whose charisma attracts you the most, Gandhi’s or Hitler’s? Both were charismatic in their times. One was the worshipper of non-violence and the other had violence as his deity. Same is with the protests; they can be violent as well as non-violent. Which are more powerful? “There’s certainly more evidence that peaceful protests are more successful because they build a wider coalition,” says Gordana Rabrenovic, associate professor of sociology and director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict.[ii] Take the example of the anti-corruption movement by Anna Hazare, it was a peaceful one and the results it got were far better than the anti CAA protests that became violent in some areas. Instead of fulfilling the motive, it attracted criticism. The posters that the UP government put up due to the violent protests attracted both shame and failure for the protesters. [iii]
We discussed what are protests, what they reflect, and their types and even went on to elaborate on some popular demonstrations. But still, the most important aspect is hiding somewhere in the dark corner. How should the protesters be treated? Human Rights associations have always been vocal when it comes to the inhumane treatment experienced by the protesters. Water cannons, tear gas, police manhandling, unnecessary arrests, rubber guns, pepper spray, sponge grenades, bean bag rounds and even pellet guns are being used. Bodily searches, forced detentions, rape, delayed access to counsel are just a reflection of the mistreatment suffered by the protesters. The chemicals that are at times sprayed on them are hazardous for a human being. The stress that they have to undergo is unimaginable. The research identified 31 studies from 11 countries. These reported on 5131 people who suffered injuries, two of whom died and 58 of whom suffered permanent disabilities[iv]. Doesn’t it show what repercussions people have to face for voicing their opinion? ‘Water is a blessing, but in summers, in winters it is a curse. Using water cannons during winters is no less than a sin. People can die due to torture. Protesters at Hong Kong tried to escape from such water and chemicals and the method of their escape gave their movement the name ‘Umbrella Movement.’ Using such heinous methods to control the crowds is a clear cut violation of human rights.
‘A country in absence of any protests is like a sea without salt.’ In a democracy, they are the medium of showing dissent and in other systems; they are the medium of demanding a change. They should be seen as an opportunity for an improvement or as a chance to clarify our point. We, humans, are gifted with a brain. It thinks in thousands of directions. It is the responsibility of not only the authorities but also the protesters to evaluate all points, listen to all opinions and then arrive at the right decision. After all “If a protest can create something, then it can destroy it too.”
Anushka Singhal is a first year learner at Symbiosis Law School NOIDA. She loves to read and write. She is currently working towards her goal to become a judge