Protest as Self-Expression and Public Duty


From The Editor's Desk

(Hinduwebsite Editorial - Exploring Truth Amidst Illusions and Distortions)

Protests are an important aspect of freedom of speech and the democratic system of governance. A healthy democracy requires a healthy dissent and a diversity of opinion. However, when protests are used as political weapons or as part of a political strategy to serve vested interests or undermine the country, democracies suffer from confusion and chaos.

Protesting has become a way of life in many democratic countries, including India. Add to that the many social network avenues which are available to people nowadays to express their opinion or vent their emotions. When a disturbing event happens, people instantly react and protest so that the world knows what the trend is and how the wind is blowing.

It is true that most people in the world do not use Internet at all or the social networks, but the people who use them serve as an important sample. Newspapers and cable channels also contribute to the medley, with their 24/7 news alerts and “breaking news,” presenting and representing the same images and opinions to keep the viewers busy, engaged, and emotionally charged.

When the governments take controversial decisions or a well-known person makes a politically incorrect statement, the people and their leaders who are inconvenienced by them express their displeasure by holding demonstrations, processions and violent incidents. One may hear loud demands for apology, explanation, resignation, withdrawal or change of laws.

If the problems gain momentum, one may witness the transfer and suspension of responsible officials, debates and arguments in the legislative bodies, demonstrations, strikes and violent protects in streets and public places. Sometimes the protests lead to mass violence, loss of life and damage to public and private property.

When such problems are resolved or when they lose public support, life returns to normalcy and life goes on, until another issue becomes contentious. No one wants to live forever in a violent society. By nature, people prefer peace and stability and want to avoid violence and chaos.

However serious they may be, violence and protests cannot go on forever. At some point, a majority of people become tired of them and yearn for peace and harmony. They they have to live their lives, pursue their goals, earn livelihood to look after themselves, their children and family. Therefore, organized protests and violent movements have their own life cycle.

Protests in many countries may or may not address the problems that incite them, but do provide the people with an outlet to vent their emotions and frustration. They expose the growing discontent of the people against the system and bring to surface the underlying weaknesses and inconsistencies that are hidden in it.

Sometimes, they achieve little in resolving the problems or improving the functioning of the government, other than registering a protest and concern, or even distract people from the real issues. At times, they also serve the protesters as a convenient means to disown any personal responsibility for perpetuating the problem or to shift the blame to a third party just as people may blame God to avoid personal responsibility for the consequences that arise from their own actions.

The truth is whether it is corruption, misuse of official power, rape or some other social crime, in a democracy, things happen to the extent people allow them to happen. If you elect the same people and expect different results, you are asking for the impossible. If people want change or progress, they must take responsibility for what happens to them or around them and stop looking for excuses. They must identify the real causes and work to remove them, electing right people and voicing their concerns where possible.

Democracies cannot afford to have corrupt systems or policies that favor a few. In democratic countries, people have a greater responsibility to ensure that the people they elect work for them rather than the other way. Government may become corrupt or inefficient, if its people ignore their responsibilities or choose wrong people. The destiny of a nation as well its people is determined not only by the individual actions of the people but also by their collective actions. If the actions are conducive to peace and harmony.

Protests are meant to convey strong messages to influence public opinion or elicit response from power groups. Sometimes, they play a symbolic role. They can be constructive or destructive and assume many forms. In a democracy, people have a duty to voice their concerns and make their voices heard, but they should not act in ways that harm the very system that protects them from the tyranny of chaos and lawlessness. Therefore, protests are healthy in a democratic system if such protests do not end up in violence.

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