Its amazing how in the last two years the phenomenon of spontaneous protests has caught on, specially in our cities. Just last year it began when Anna was sent to the jail and then now over Damini – the girl. Although no Tahrir Square moments for India, these protests are an entirely new phenomenon, baffling the politicians and the pundits alike. Though protests are no new to our democracy, what is new this time is that common people, used to watching such protests from the comfort of their dining rooms on the television, are now the part of what is being shown on the television. And no sir (/ mam) no, not on the call of any political party, but acting on the voice of their own consciences, giving expression to the deep resentment towards a British Raj like administration, these people have come out on the streets. They are not any political workers but are students, you, me, our mums and pups and our family members. And they came out when they sensed that gross injustice had been committed. Earlier the injustice was committed when Anna was jailed and his freedom of speech was brazenly violated while this time its for the brave girl who became a symbol for the thousands others whose right to life is being so violently denied as our insensitive administration sleeps.
Wihout flowing into any more emotions, lets calmly ask ourselves – what purpose? To what end? Do such protests carry any meaning? As one of my friend told me today, “kuch nahi hoga in sab se”? Com’on we all know some lip service, monetary concession to the family of the victim and arrests for the accused… and then calm until the next time. Such experience is nothing new. Afterall we still await the Lokpal. The questions then is that what is the point behind protesting?
Apart from the above apparant pointlessness, many political pundits have questioned the method of protests itself. It is argued that such protests illegitimately put pressure on the government and have contributed to the thought that one can now bulldoze a legitimately elected government and make laws on the street. They think that yielding to such demands will set a wrong precedent. Some others dismiss the gravity of these protests by calling the protestors either ‘painted and dented’ or middle class frustrated youth.
These arguments carry weight. Ours is an indirect democracy and for it to function properly laws must be made by the parliament only and cases should be tried in courts. For if we were to delegate these jobs to the streets, very soon the days of anarchy shall arrive. But there is another angle as well. In a democracy like ours, representatives are elected. These elections are fought on many issues like the candidate, the party, caste, religion, a set of policies and so on and by their very nature cannot be fought on a single issue like say rapes. Once the representatives have been elected, we are supposed to express our opinion to them on individual issues. Remember expressing opinion and putting pressure on the government to accept it is a legitimate part of democracy. Corporates spend huge money on it and call it ‘lobbying’. Most ministers including the home minister delightfully welcome such corporate lobbyists and in case of some like Ambanis, they even go out of the way to accommodate them. They even have a nice term for it called ‘participative policy making’ (12th Five Year Plan Approach Paper – Montek Singh Ahluwalia urges the government to indulge more into it).
But what happens when we, the ordinary citizens, have to express our opinion on some matter say rape? We are simply too heterogenous and scattered to form lobby groups and dedicate substantial sums toward it. So what is left for us to perform this absolutely essential duty of democracy i.e. of expressing our opinion? Simple, we protest. Thus protests are a legitimate part of democracy and the argument that it contributes to illegally exert pressure on the government is hollow.
But unlike the corporate lobbyists, what is the treatment met out to this ‘public lobbying’? Like in the British Raj, our current rulers resort to police violence to break the protests. They shut down metro stations and close down the roads. Not a single elected representative has cared to even send somebody meet the protestors. Gone are the days when politicians were supposed to be sensitive to the public opinion, the now home minister feels that he is the high mighty and how can he go and meet the mango people.
Why, then, this difference in treatment to lobbying and public protests when both are essentially performing the same thing? Similarly whats wrong if those who are protesting this time belong to the middle class? Whats wrong if they are educated and came out hearing their own voices for a change? Whats wrong if the issue here is neither a religious one, nor a caste based one and hence out of bounds for most of our politicians? If anything, isn’t this a welcome sign of maturity arriving in our democracy?
Anyways, coming to “kya hoga in sab se”… Maybe not today… Not tomorrow. Rapes may continue to happen. In this case the poor investigation and legal structure which contributes to abysmally low conviction rates and hence more rapes may remain unchanged. The government may this time again take the easy steps while avoiding the tough one which really matter to wriggle out of the situation. But maybe all this is not in vain. Maybe after the hundredth protest things meaningfully change. Maybe in the times of our kids… But still the importance of the first step taken by us remains. We are taking our democracy in the right direction… Kuch to hoga is se..