And yet again, another caste-based agitation has rocked the whole nation. Lakhs of aggrieved people took to the streets to protest against a Supreme Court order. The order supposedly ‘dilutes’ the SC/ST Act which is meant to protect people from SC/ST backgrounds against any form of discrimination. The impact of the order will supposedly render them more vulnerable and helpless in this vicious and volatile atmosphere.
In a country whose most celebrated icon called off a whole national moment in the wake of an incident of violence committed by an angry mob in Chauri Chaura, and who today stands as the epitome of peace and non-violence across the globe, 11 innocent people, including some protesters and some who happened to be at the site of protests at the incorrect time, lost their lives. To those who directed these acts of violence and vandalism, the loss of these lives was nothing more than a little collateral damage in realising their larger ‘political motive’.
All these so called ‘representatives’ of the marginalised and the downtrodden were mindful of the simmering discontentment and disillusionment within the Dalit community over the sharp spike in number of atrocities being committed against them. For them, the Supreme Court ruling was an opportunity served on a platter to instill a sense of fear and outrage among all the Dalits and then channelise it in the direction of the invincible-looking ruling dispensation.
A peaceful protest probably would have sufficed to send across the message to those in power. But a violent agitation definitely added a little masala to the whole turn of events and helped them in grabbing more eyeballs. And as is the case with such protests, a little aggression and vandalism of public property is an important prerequisite to vindicate their firm resolution to achieve their goal.
And as per the norm, the leaders and people organising these protests will dissociate themselves from these acts of brutality, denounce it and will offer their sincere condolences to the families of the deceased. But can their mere condemnation and condolences assuage the pain and grief of Mohan Singh who lost his son? Will it compensate for his death?
The right to the protest is a fundamental right of every citizen of this country and acts as a cornerstone of any healthy democracy. But can violence, vandalism, arson and deaths be justified in the name of protests? Can those organising these agitations be totally absolved of any accountability for all those untoward incidents that follow? Is it important to disrupt the whole public order to reinforce their message? How do we ensure that a ‘peaceful agitation’ does not become a nightmare for others?
There are too many questions and the answers are complex. But if we don’t find answers to these questions, then we should be ready for worse. Oppositions in the form of public protests will lose their relevance. And soon, they will become a threat to the public order and the democratic fabric of this country.