I remember the poster that read "We march till every day is Pride Day," at the Mumbai Pride Parade 3 years ago. It was the first time I was at such a large gathering, asking for my rights. 2 years later, Article 377 was partially struck down, granting rights and validating the identity of many queer people. The protests and marches are what made it happen.
Off late, protesting and protesters are looked at as anti-social elements, or "negative" elements that thrive on hate and anger. But protests have been around ever since democracy was established, some even before that. So why is it that now protests are looked at as harmful or pointless?
Why The Negativity Around Protests?
India built itself on the foundation of protests - protesting against British laws, protesting against British injustices, protesting against the British - this is what made India. Yet, in the current political climate, protests are looked down upon.
Gandhi protested, in his non-violent peaceful ways, with a huge number of people and even hosted marches to help accelerate Independence, but now protests are seen as "students gone wild" or "rebel kids doing what they like." In the last few years, protests have been a common phenomenon to show dissent, and they have been filled with student populations ageing from 15-20 somethings, and it is perhaps why the entire concept of protests has taken a hit.
In India, the older generations and the "elderly," per se are supposed to be discussing politics and policies, whereas children were to keep busy with education and other non-sociopolitical issues. Perhaps that is why the overwhelming presence of the younger generations at protests is what makes the whole concept futile and wasteful to a certain population.
Another issue is the pitiful surveillance and media coverage protests tend to garner - unless a protest is violent it doesn't make it to the TV or headlines. This repetitive mention of protests going violent make for another reason as to why protests don't seem to be "fruitful" anymore.
But in the current political climate, where no moment seems to settle down - it's essential to be present at these protests, to make our voices heard.
Why Are Protests Important?
From the Nirbhaya case protests to now, the CAA protests - there has always been one clear objective, to bring change in some manner or the other, to remind the government that there exist the voice of dissent. The main objective of protests is to bring together a number of people who believe in the same thing and to tell the nation, "this is what we believe in" - essentially, to be heard.
Here are some ways that protests help the voices of dissent -
- Increasing the Visibility of a Cause: As I mentioned earlier, protests simply bring together voices of dissent - sometimes amplifying these voices is what makes people feel heard. Bringing to the forefront the issues people have with a certain policy, social injustice or law helps in feeling acknowledged and heard. Marches bring attention. The media, politicians, and bystanders notice when a protest event happens. And if the protest is staged well, it will invariably make some people look at the issue with new eyes. It also invites conversation, persuasion and sometimes, change.
- Feeling Solidarity: A protest brings together likeminded people, increasing the sense of solidarity for the cause. Like when I support the LGBTQIA+ community in the comfort of my home, it's me alone - but when I'm out on the streets with posters and signs along with thousands of others - there's a sense of identity a sense of purpose. Protests help in feeling less alone by bringing together communities and people who stand up for the same thing.
- Help the Minority: Minority communities are heard less often since the group in itself seems so small. Marching together, feeling the solidarity and bringing visibility to their cause makes them feel acknowledged. Creating an impact by simply marching or chanting slogans is important to the minorities.
- Sometimes, They Win: Protests like the Nirbhaya Movement in 2016, brought justice of some sort to the victim. Protests enable voices to be heard and if the voices are loud enough sometimes, the people in power listen, and sometimes you win. Change of some sort comes by and that makes everything worth it. Voices are heard, injustice is dealt with and rights are re-established. If you win, you have brought change to the country - you are a part of something bigger than just what you want - you helped shape a country or state or even town.
In conclusion, protests are as demonized as they have been portrayed in the media or news - they're bigger than that, they grant us our right to free assembly, right to speech, right to freedom of expression. It is the one way you can make your voice heard if you ever feel strongly about a certain sociopolitical issue, protests are your right - use them peacefully, and correctly.