Protests are a legitimate part of democratic functioning to bring home to the government the concerns of society against perceived injustice. This is adopted when other means to highlight the concerns of an individual, group or institution have not yielded the desired results. This was the medium adopted by India to achieve freedom, wherein Gandhi and others resorted to non-cooperation and other means of protest to force the British to leave the country. Bringing the country to a halt was a legitimate tactic because India was under a foreign yoke. Post-independence, such forms of protest got sanctified as a necessary component of democracy, even though India was a free country and had the means to seek redress through their own people.
A continuation of the protest methodology as followed in pre-independence times became a vehicle for political mobilisation rather than as a means of drawing attention to shortcomings in administration, lack of governance structures, under- development and for justice delivery. And violence during agitations saw the destruction of public property, disruption of communication systems and forced closure of shops and establishments, as a norm rather than as an exception. And all this was done in the name of democracy. An atmosphere of distrust thus crept in between those that controlled the levers of power and those who were ruled. It became an us versus them situation, more so because the administration and the political party in power, simply assumed
the role of the erstwhile British rulers and continued to lord over the masses. We still have not got over this mindset.
While protests are a legitimate means of conveying the concerns of society to those who have been elected to rule, it cannot encompass shutting down the country or destroying public property. One person’s freedom to protest must never ever breach the right of those who do not wish to protest and who simply desire to get on with their daily chores. No one has the right to order shops and establishments to close down. No one has the right to burn buses and trains, damage property and indulge in hooliganism. That, as the former Army Chief stated a few days before he relinquished office, shows a lack of leadership in those organising such protests. We thus need a different work culture and this must be developed soonest.
It is tragic to see students from some of the most prestigious universities resorting to behaviour that is shameful and condemnable. Most such protests are instigated and motivated acts of vandalism, designed to induce fear in the larger population and force compliance to the demands of the protestors. In essence, such behaviour does not signify democracy being protected; rather, it is a pointer to the decay of democratic institutions. Civil society needs to think long and hard on what democracy means and how it should be preserved. Leaving behind a trail of death and destruction is anarchic behaviour and can never lead to the growth of healthy democratic institutions.