An ordinary young citizen in this country rarely has a definite idea about the languages of public protest, as is dominant in one’s socio-cultural space. However, they are not apathetic to the reason many neighbours or friends are pent up with the way things are in this world. When in a locality the basic amenities of water or public health is denied, they know according to their limited knowledge of democracy there must exist a way of voicing mass public dissent against the local authorities.
But they do not know how to voice their dissent. We all have had numerous lectures on democracy, but rarely have an idea on how to be a democratic citizen, to practise democracy, to organise and put to use our democratic right to dissent and demand what is rightfully ours. Decades of lack of experience in engaging in these democratic activities has often left our generation clueless about what to do.
While some languages of protest are still kept alive through political parties (more often just gimmicks), these spaces stay generally out of reach for the general, un-affiliated mass who do not belong to any of these parties or their subsidiary wings. It is due to this reason that anti-state protests are muffled. At the end of the day, all these political banners are stakeholders in the state machinery that perpetrates these acts of aggression, deny the rights of the citizen.
Therefore, the general mass has very little training on how to take on the State when their rights are being denied, when their skins are being whipped. But this is the general mass. The swing voters who decide the electoral outcome, why has their voice diminished?
It is because right from schools or colleges, one’s basic training or experience in engaging in these democratic activities of organising is through these political parties and their student wings. And it is these organisations that have in turn demonised public protesters as “anti-nationals“, “Maoists” or “backed by outsiders-with-vested-interests” (and the new term “Khalistani” used for the protesting farmers).
The plethora of literature that demonises the basic essence of the student movements of the 1970s in Bengal leaves us to uncritically accept that such political endeavours on part of citizens are not to be trusted or are something that is inevitably an exercise in futility. We do not look at the context of the tumultuous socio-economic events before the movement that gave rise to the need for the students to speak out, the frustrations that expressed itself in the language of protest, and the lessons we can learn from it.
Instead, the history of the 70s, as is evident in the public consciousness, is a history of blood, a struggle we must refrain from undertaking in the future.
“We the people”, that embodies the fundamental principles of democracy and popular sovereignty has been distorted the public discourse and consciousness as “we the members of…(insert a political banner of your choice)”. Political parties, most of the times, are the sole platforms that give voice to the languages of protest of the pent up youth mentioned before. The basic training that they receive in figuring out how to convert frustrations into public outcries against injustice is taught to them at the nooks and corners of the party offices in the cities and towns.
Also, the general attitude of people towards protestors is a big example of how we have normalised oppression and fail to realise our democratic duties. The response to a chakka jam by a dissenting crowd is always a “we are having problems travelling for this nuisance” or “these people have nothing to do but create problems”. The recent one that we have been dictated to learn up fast is, “If you have so many issues, why don’t you leave the country?”
Why are we rarely reminded of what it is like to be a part of a State that we are in? A State where two people who do not know each other feel responsible towards each other. When we hear a dissenting voice we must engage with them and frame an opinion on their demands and try to educate, not find ways of discarding them as a first response. It is a result of how we have normalised being dictated.
The anti-CAA protests that happened around this time last year throughout the country was a significant moment in the history of our democracy. In my consciousness, it was one of the rare instances of a protest of an unbelievable magnitude that held no banner of a political party, for the students knew better. Not a single stone unturned by the government and its machinery to inflict all kinds of unimaginable brutalities on dissenters to shut them up, engaging the police force to come down on them heavily, put them behind bars and traumatise them mentally.
As many of them today lie in our prisons with charges of inciting hatred, suspicion of being a terrorist and other such frivolous ones, it has become a successful manner of teaching a lesson to anybody who dares to realise their rights. Not to forget, the simultaneous media propaganda to call them different names, questioning the sheer credibility of the movement every day. The perpetuation of a similar spirit can now be found again in every nook and corner of the farmers’ protest sites.
The farmers have come together in massive numbers from their respective states with a vow stay until the recently passed farm acts are revoked. They believe the acts will pave the way to give agriculture in the hands of capitalists and the farmers will bear the brunt of their wishes and be exploited from thereon.
Visiting these places of dissent, interacting with the agitators, soaking oneself in the sheer essence that runs in every vein of each farmer there will, if nothing else, remind one of their role in this democracy. It will give one a lesson, yet again, on how to practically apply their democratic powers in real issues. A movement that is organised by swing voters, the un-affiliated, and is given shape only by their leaders.
A peaceful protest in its literal sense even with thousands of people together will teach us a good lesson on organisational skills. No political party allowed to get involved, share their stage and, perhaps, later create a position to tell them what to do. The farmers through the knowledge of their history and lived experience alone rationalised and justified their actions.
We do not know how the protest will fare at the end or what impact it will have in the long run. Will it be remembered as an inspiration for the future or be swept aside in the corners of history? Will it be a path to tread for future generations to achieve more accommodation for general mass in this limited concept of democracy or be remembered as a lesson in what not to do as “democratic” citizens?
However, the ones who are devout to the Indian Constitution are breathing a sigh of peace as they get goosebumps, marvelling at the face of democracy.