Changing trends of protests & agitations in India

By Kamakshi Mahajan

Changing trends of protests & agitations in India

Protests in India have developed and evolved amidst an unequal society, extreme poverty and crime, apathetic state and a drowsy legal system. In the absence of other avenues, protests have become means of expressing grievance, a way of legitimizing the demands, a function of multi-cultural democracy and a form of freedom of speech and expression. Protests can be seen as the coming together of the collective conscience of the nation. They are dynamic, changing their forms, scale and agendas. Clashes in these protests between police and protestors are not uncommon in a democracy like India. Conflict is expected when judicial and state processes fail, people often take to the streets to administer some form of vigilante justice and retribution. In the recent times, protests have ranged from anger on assault of freedom of speech and expression (murders of journalists Lankesh and Bhowmik), condemning the rise of Islamophobia and lynching’s of Dalits and Muslims (#NotInMyName).

Protests have been on issues like farmer deaths and droughts (recent, demonstrations by Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra kisan long march), women safety (most significantly the Nirbhaya protests which brought out amendments in the criminal law) and miscarriage of justice. There have been student movements followed by state crackdowns (in University of Hyderabad over suicide of Rohith Vemula, protests over SSC exam paper leak and in Jawaharlal Nehru University over arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed, and in Film and Television Institute of India over appointment of Gajendra Chauhan). There have even been riots in support of the self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh after he was convicted of raping two female followers. In the recent past, our nation has witnessed a huge rise in Student Activism (students getting involved in socio-political activities or any other social issues).

With the advent of social platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter etc. have helped students to take their movement further in a more planned and organized manner. Social media is considered more of arm chair activism and less effective compared to on-field activism, it helps students in mobilizing a huge mass movement to make the general public aware about the issue. Active use of social media is one of the main reasons for the rise in student activism in the country.

Also, the agrarian distress that has taken a huge toll of lives, with cash strapped farmers committing suicide in large numbers across the country, is now being expressed through massive protests. Thousands of farmers have been marching from their villages to the state or district headquarters in search of justice from state governments.

Protests of all form also have a way of co-existing in India. There have been protests for rape victims and for rapists. Protests for reservations and anti-reservations have been playing out since independence as Indians continue to outrage, and in some instances for the most unthinkable reasons.

Last year alone, Indians have outraged over an actor’s clothes (Priyanka Chopra’s dress and scarf), a film script (Padmaavat), Pakistani actors and Snapchat filters. Injunctions and bans have been issued on books (Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev this year and earlier on Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History), and the Central Board of Film Certification chief ended his term issuing a list of banned words, cutting down movies for being ‘lady-oriented’ (Lipstick Under My Burkha).

The bans and injunctions on freedom of thought and expression have raised misgivings on the resilience of Indian democracy. The discourse now rests on a balance between protecting this freedom on one hand and extending the limits on that freedom on the other. The protests are always at a risk of deviating from the cause, being crushed or captured by the elite. Nevertheless, outrage and resultant protests will be significant in protecting the freedom of speech and expression, forming an alternate way of impacting the public discourse in times when media is largely pro-state. It will be a way of safeguarding the resilience of the democracy, throwing light on marginalized causes and miscarriage of justice, acting as a conscience keeper of a nation and ultimately protecting the world’s largest democracy.


About the Author

Kamakshi Mahajan is an Analyst with the Information Services Team of Mitkat. 

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions represented in this blog are of the author and do not represent those of MitKat. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.

Published On - Apr 2,2018


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