Has India Begun 2013 On A ‘Revolutionary’ Note?

Posted on January 1, 2013 in Society

By Surendran Balachandran:

Dec 17, 2010 a fruit seller immolated himself in Tunisia which triggered the arab revolution. Dec 16, 2012, the brutal assault of a 23 year old girl might have well triggered a revolution in India.

On Dec. 17, 2010, a fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after a dispute with a government official. He was selling tangerines, apples and pears from his wooden cart, which he operated without a government permit, on the streets of Sidi Bouzid, a small city in Tunisia. To cut the long story short, Mohamed was selling fruits on the streets on a wooden cart and his scales were confiscated by the Municipal Inspector since he dint have a permit. He went to the police station to retrieve his scale, that he was turned away, and that he then asked to see the governor and was turned away again. Two hours later, at approximately 1 p.m., he took his wooden cart to the street in front of the governor’s office, poured a bottle of flammable liquid, presumably gasoline, over his head and set himself on fire. People protested outside the Governor’s house for 10 days when the Government sent more troops to handle the situation and finally on Dec 28, the President Ben Ali yielded to the pressure on the street for the first time. But then, a few days later on Jan. 4 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi died. Ten days after that, on Jan. 14, Ben Ali and his family fled the country.


This immolation and the subsequent heavy-handed response by the police to peaceful marchers caused riots the next day in Sidi Bouzid that went largely unnoticed, although social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube featured images of police dispersing youths who attacked shop windows and damaged cars. The media called it the Jasmine Revolution.

The role of communication technologies, and the Internet in particular, has been widely credited as contributor to the mobilisation of protests and the Tunisian Government even attempted to control the Internet.

There do exist criticisms about the exact turn of events that led to the immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in the small town of Sidi Bouzid but this incident resonated across the Arab world and paved way for the Arab Spring. Some even contend that it had its impact on the Anti Corruption movement in India.

Dec 16 2012, almost exactly 2 years after Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself, a 23 year old girl in Delhi was brutally assaulted in one of the most horrific incidents in India. This incident triggered a spontaneous public protest in Delhi demanding action from the Government. The protests rapidly spread across the country. Cutting across lines of differentiation, the “common man” was leading the protest, fueled by various emotions.

There are a lot of similarities with what happened in Tunisia in 2010. The water cannons, the tear gas, the police action, shutting down public transport, closing the roads leading to India Gate, imposing curfew and the lack of timely & compassionate communication from the Government coupled with apathy — resulted in a huge wave of protest across the country. It wont be totally wrong to say that there was a failed attempt to separate the symbols from the protesters.

Protesters believed the Indian government failed to act positively or give credible assurances to the protesters, and instead used police force to stop the protests, resorting to lathi-charging, pushing the media out of the scene and shutting down metro rail stations.

Once again, the Internet played a major role in anchoring protests. Amongst the scores of petitions on Change.org, the top 3 account for more than 120K people taking action.

Probably I’m making broad generalzations and sweeping comparisons. The roots of both these uprisings are different, the socio cultural economic landscape of these countries are different but I feel there exist certain similarities as well.

The Delhi incident has triggered a wave of protests relating to safety of women and the solutions thereof. But these solutions cannot be made or implemented unless we question how India’s public offices & institutions function, how our executive, legislature and judiciary work currently and do they really serve the masses and how young Indians expect/want them to work. In short, we need to fundamentally redefine how India works.

These systems need a overhaul and they need to be held accountable. It probably needs a revolution and yes we are on the verge of a revolution, if it has already not started 10 days ago. We need to ensure that this remains peaceful, not hijacked by narrow interests and focus on the basic asks.

We need to sustain the movement if we want to create a better world.

PS : Below are the links I have referred to. Some of the facts may be fast changing because of the Delhi incident is current news and I might make edits. The comparison itself might look naive, if not stupid but I am eager to hear your comments too.