I was out for coffee a few days ago with a friend when I saw a man on a motorbike on the road, stealing glances at me at regular intervals. I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I decided to ignore. From my peripheral vision, I did look at him again, and again, for a while — until I realised what was happening.
He was masturbating. In public. While my friend suggested we leave, I stayed for a few minutes. I looked him in the eye, took my phone out and started recording. He left immediately.
While on our way back home, we talked about incidents in our lives where we had been molested, touched inappropriately by men. Some strangers, others familiar. All men.
- V (Chose to remain anonymous)
That day, I didn’t just stand up for myself. I had protested.
In retrospect, I think I have been protesting all my life. We have all been, I hope.
When you say or do something that shows you are against something, is when you protest. If you haven’t guessed by now, this essay is an attempt to talk about protests and dissent.
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Protests can take various forms. Whether it’s to say ‘No’ and get rid of an abusive relationship or the famous salt march led by Gandhiji more than 90 years ago that tops the list of TIME’s ‘5 of the Most Influential Protests in History, protests go way back in time and have had a crucial role to play in the world we live in today and the privileges we enjoy.
There are few things, however, that remain in any form of protest — big or small, violent or nonviolent.
1. A Significant Gap in Perception or Ideology
Any protest is a display of disagreement with the prevalent discourse around a particular issue. Be it an individual’s display of disagreement or of a group of persons. Often there are more than two sides in a protest
“Protesters know what they want, but there’s someone on the other side who doesn’t want what you want, and then what makes it even more complicated in a protest situation is there’s often lots of sides. It’s more like a game with 12 teams.”
2. Breaking a Pattern
Protests necessarily involve breaking a pattern of thought or action. Rosa Parks, an African American in 1955 refused to give her seat to a white man in a public bus. African Americans, at that time, were required to sit at the back of public buses, and were obligated to give seats to white people if need be. The regular pattern of thought and action was a segregation in the seating arrangement of people based on the colour of their skin in public buses. Rosa Parks, fondly called The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, broke this pattern. She protested.
Why People Protest?
“Why do people protest? This question has always intrigued social scientists. Why are people prepared to sacrifice wealth, a pleasant and carefree life, or sometimes even their lives for a common cause?”
- Jacquelien van Stekelenburg and Bert Klandermans
In their paper published in Current Sociology Review, Jacquelien van Stekelenburg and Bert Klandermans talk about the reasons why people protest through theoretical and empirical aspects. You can access the study here, but I want to talk only about two reasons most relevant to this essay.
- Grievances: According to the author, one of the underlying factors behind protests is a grievance. When grievances are common across a group of people, their action may turn it into a political protest as well. Rosa Parks’ grievance was with the unfair treatment of African Americans.
- Efficacy: One might only raise her voice if she thinks it would help change the situation around her or the society. Despite having grievances, if she knows that her voice, protest, or disagreement would not amount to any change, she might not. George Orwell, in 1984, talks about a totalitarian regime and how even thinking about something against the authority could land you in a lot of trouble. One could not even think about protesting, let alone doing it. (if you haven’t read the book yet, I would strongly suggest you do)
Dissent and Growing Up
Since I study education in my Masters, when I started writing around the ideas of protesting, I could not help but think about dissent and protests in the educational sphere as well.
Formal schooling plays a very important role in the Indian society. Children spend hours in a classroom, preparing themselves to become responsible citizens to the nation and to the society around. It is safe to say then that they are affected by the problems of the society, the culture and the political discourses.
However, in schools in India, we encourage students to not question the hierarchy. In fact, there may be repercussions for acts of dissent. Of course, I speak from personal experience and limited knowledge, but I don’t think this opinion is very far from reality. Students are not encouraged (enough) to question their own facilitators. Teachers are not encouraged (enough) to question or critique the administration, and the process follows. Most state textbooks include biased narratives talking about dissent or protests, individual or collective. Are our schools democratic enough to accept criticism and dissent, let alone protests?
“How do we become a true democracy unless we experience democracy? Children have to experience democracy. Our idea of schooling has to be thought through. We aren’t able to see beyond children sitting in rows in classrooms. Why do we want to treat all of them as the same? It is artificial, it is contrived,”
- The News Minute
Read the entire article by The News Minute here.
Formal schooling has only been around for about two hundred years, but education has been around forever. Why shouldn’t we be teaching our children to critique, to express dissent, to protest?
History provides evidence how dissent and protests have changed societies for the better, made them less regressive, and more equitable. (Well not yet but at least we are moving in the direction)
At one point or another in our lives, we have all said ‘No’, we have all expressed our disagreements, we have all protested. And we must take pride in being a part of a society that has learned from its actions, and continues to learn and change.
Originally published at https://thehitandmiss.substack.com.