Around the world, every now and then, we see a large group of people coming together with posters and boards, singing slogans and songs, trying to make a change in the system. These people are either not happy with the current way or are against a future way of doing the things, which are declared by the government in its current policies, bills, and declarations. These people come together for various reasons like racial discrimination as in the Black lives matter protest or environment safety as seen in protest lead by Greta Thunberg, or democratic reform as seen in Tiananmen square, etc.

India also has a very strong and historic relation with protests, and one can even say that India got its independence because of the protests like the non-cooperation movement, civil disobedience movement, Dandi march, etc. All these protests were against the British regime, that was mistreating and looting India and its citizen. The nation won independence because of a long series of demonstrations due to which its people went from being colonial subjects to free citizens. The citizens of this country were taught the power of peaceful protest by Mahatma Gandhi, who is still considered the father of the Indian community. After independence, those lessons were not forgotten. Though different protests started after India got its freedom; these were mainly against the misuse of power by the government.

The greatest example of government misusing power is seen around the emergency of 1975, imposed by PM Indira Gandhi. In retrospect, one can call that the darkest period of democracy in India, where democracy and civil liberties were suspended, political dissent was not allowed and was reciprocated with imprisonment, and the press was censored. In the times when the legal and judicial system failed us, Arun Jaitley, who had been the political activist of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in Delhi, assembled a rally and burned an effigy of Indira Gandhi for which he had been arrested. The demonstrations against the crisis were also attended by many other BJP leaders, like AB Vajpayee, LK Advani, and Narendra Modi.

There were several other protests also like The Assam movement, the Anti-corruption movement, Chipko Movement, jungle Bachao Andolan, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Nirbhaya Movement, Anti-reservation protest, Jadavpur university protest, etc. We can also see the recent example of farmers protest against the agriculture bill under the BJP regime. So, one can say that India and Indians have a long relationship with protests which have helped Indian citizens to correct the actions of authority in power and bring India to a path of progress and development, which is good for all sections of the society.

Why is protest important?

Public demonstrations are acts of opposition and an illustration of the desperate need for policy reform. Nonviolent marches have become a driver underlying positive social change by trying to drive media attention, intensifying legislative intervention, and changing public sentiment. The right to peaceful dissent is given by our Constitution to the people of India. It is part of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. It is therefore a moral obligation to campaign against inequality. Protests are connected to legislation inextricably. Despite suggestions that we should not get down the road, if we want real, systemic reform, the nation’s marches, protests, boycotts, and meetings in the interest of racial justice must continue.

Protests are required to: Correct actions of past

Social Movements not only cater to the present problems but also try to undo the injustices caused by past actions, policies, and prejudices. In a society, there are several systemic problems also like discrimination based on color, caste, religion, etc. Social movements tend to aware people of such practices. There are several draconian laws also which need to be changed and they are often not changed till a large number of people show their dissatisfaction against the law, in the form of a protest. A good example of this can be the Nirbhaya case, for which several people came on roads, demanding the appropriate justice for the victim which was getting hindered due to the law. It was not the first case, where a juvenile was caught for a severe crime in India. According to a report, around 2000 juveniles were arrested in one year, after the new act was passed. This only points towards the ground reality that we were not addressing a huge issue for a long time.

Correct actions of Present

As in any dynamic system, things keep on changing, in any country policies, bills and amendments keep on happening. Sometimes these changes are for good of all but sometimes some communities or groups can find themselves in a disadvantaged position due to the new bills or amendments. Such actions are checked or corrected through social movements. We can see a current example of farmers protesting against the farm bill in India, who are trying to get their viewpoint listened and get the bill repealed.

Correct Actions regarding future

Sometimes, lack of appropriate actions by the establishments can cause great harm to society in long run. For example, the lack of strict policies against industrial pollution, though help industries in short term, but causes bigger harm to society in long run. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, challenged some of the biggest leaders and government systems to take immediate actions against climate change. Though there was no immediate threat in the case, a social movement was required, to correct the course of society.

Are social movements effective and efficient?

We see a large number of protests happening around the world but are all such social movements able to achieve the desired result they wanted. If we consider Anna Hazare and his movement against corruption, one can certainly doubt the effectiveness of social movements. Moreover, changes do not take place overnight, these social movements often take a long time to bring the issues to notice, whereas finding a good solution and its implementation is another task.

However, one should not just lose hope in the social movements because of the lower efficiency and effectiveness. One should realize that no systems are perfect but a journey towards achieving perfection. Over time, the effectiveness and efficiency of the social movements will improve, if appropriate work is done towards improving them. If we discard the system calling it inefficient, maybe we will lose a tool amid the scarcity of tools.

Narinder Gautam is  a second-year PGP student from IIM Ahmedabad


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