The essence of protests

  28-Aug-2020 10:49:59

Protests BLM CAA-NRC Delhi riots


/ˈprəʊtɛst/ noun

A statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something.

When you don’t like something, you raise a contention. When you have a differing opinion from that of an “authority”, whose opinion is unhealthy and/or harmful to you, you voice it out.

Over centuries, protests have come to be recognized as a fundamental right. Also referred to as the right to freedom of assembly, right to freedom of association and right to freedom of speech, the right to protest is advocated by international legal instruments like the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) – Article 9 to 11, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) – Article 18 to 22, Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 19 and 20, etc. In addition, it is also recognized by several countries around the world as a right that citizens are entitled to.

It is only fair when an unaware civilian resorts to scepticism regarding the nature of protests. However, reading through the annals of history spanning over centuries, you realise the humongous role protests have played in the evolution of the civilization we exist in today. Who are these protestors? Almost always, it is a mere civilian who wants to experience the rights they are entitled to without any impediment. Why do protests happen? In a national/international landscape, protests mostly happen due to disagreement and/or demand for better access to rights.

Revolutionary protests have occurred several times against governments by civilians robbed/denied of what they deserve. Dissent – the ultimate tool towards breaking glass ceilings and uprooting anarchy, has made its way into history books. Rightfully so, the right to dissent has now found itself enshrined in the constitutions of several countries; much thanks to our ancestors who fought for the present and the future. From the independence of nations from the clutches of colonialism to securing the right to love and exist as the person you want, protests have helped human beings remain civilized and ever-progressive.

We seldom acknowledge the power that arrives with possessing fundamental rights. However, the authority to determine these rights is a power that has often revealed a dark side that every era painfully remembers. In certain cases, civilians have had to earn these rights from authorities who unfortunately chose to restrict said rights - through vehement disagreement, protesting and sometimes, even violence.

The courageous, self-affirmed people who fought for Pride rights are eternalised through the Stonewall Riots. These riots were spearheaded by people of different races, ethnicities and gender identities. They opened the world’s minds to the existence of identities that are beyond the heteronormative binary gender system. Their methods to secure these rights for what is now the LGBTQIA+ community involved a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Escalating from a protest to a full-blown riot, the event has invited a lot of talk ever since, due to its violent nature. But if it weren’t for this fight, the progress from heteronormative societies to accepting spaces (subject to the constitution of said country and mindset of people) would still remain a figment of the imagination.

The Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter movement, etc. are considered revolutionary uprisings by civilians against established governments. These movements have had profound impacts on fellow civilians and the authorities alike. In the Indian Constitution, Article 19(1)(a) – freedom of speech and expression and 19(1)(b) – right to peaceful assembly without arms are provisions that enable Indian citizens to voice their dissent. Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union Of India & Ors. (2012) had the Supreme Court affirming the following – “Citizens have afundamental right to assembly and peaceful protestwhich cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action.” However, there are “reasonable” restrictions to the same in the form of Article 19(2), which dictates that any dissent against the interests, security and foreign relations of the nation, public order and morality do not fall under these rights.

Post the sensational pro-Jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu, the power of citizen dissent is very apparent. Given recent developments in the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill – now the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (2019), in the form of widespread protests across the nation due to the act’s “unconstitutional” and “non-secular” nature, the entire international community has woken up to the questionable nature of policies being implemented in India. People of all religions and ages joined hands to vehemently oppose the act that disfavoured the Muslim community; it was a rude shock to witness blatant discrimination in nation-wide policies.

India, governed by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance faced the spotlight due to its inhumane crackdown on anti-CAA and anti-abrogation protestors all over the country. Police brutality, direct threats of violence and Islamophobia, extrajudicial killings, escalating to the Delhi pogrom - several other violations were noted by the likes of several human rights organizations including Amnesty International, United Nations etc. The loudest voices are silenced by draconian “anti-terror” laws like the UAPA - filled with deplorable ambiguities, assemblies on our land is stopped by imposition of Section 144 and internet bans, media-houses criticising the government are censored and the intent of communal harmony is perceived as anti-nationalism.

Amusingly so, this brings forth the question – since when did communalism have anything to do with Indian nationalism? The answer to this can be found in Indian governance since 2014. Collecting a voter base of people who are led to believe that nationalism is of utmost necessity while subtly injecting this spirit with communal undertones, BJP now boasts of nationalism that has people incapable of differentiating between the nation and the government. The executive and legislative parts of the nation are intertwining in a manner that is biased, while the judiciary is left to guard the rapidly thinning national fabric of India. Article 326 grants every Indian citizen the right to vote out of power a dissatisfactory government. Is the average Indian citizen aware of his surroundings being carefully curated so as to maintain the illusion of the ideals flaunted by our Preamble? As an ending note, the author asks the readers to answer this question – what is the difference between nationalism and patriotism?

By: Reshma Raghunadharao