Rethinking The Culture Of Protest

Kushal Pokharel

 

The peaceful demonstration demanding not only the withdrawal but the complete scrapping of the Guthi bill this week heralded a new culture of protest. While such agitations are not an unprecedented phenomena in any part of the world, the manner in which it took place this time around was different in more positive sense. Thousands of people including conservationist, ‘guthiyaars’, human rights activists came to the street in a bid to show a strong solidarity for the cause of preserving our age-old cultural and religious practices.
In fact, the demonstrators wanted to impart a message that they are ready to sacrifice for the general welfare of the community without compromising on any grounds. Taking a collective oath to stand firm against corruption, the participants vowed not to tolerate any sort of unethical practices and raise voices against the ‘mafia’ practices. Chanting slogans against the bill reflected a composed nature of the participants rather than undue sensation.
However, the general public has also hinted to the government not to undermine the power of a common man. No matter how powerful the government is technically, it won’t be in a position to withstand mass public protest if every household voluntarily gathers in street for the cause of protecting the religious and cultural heritages to maintain the dignity of the nation.
It was indeed a welcoming move on the part of the PM to announce the withdrawal of the controversial bill though the manner of reaching this decision has already invited considerable attention from opposition leaders. Realising the general mass dissatisfaction, the government made a timely move. Nevertheless, the pre-determined program at Maitighar was conducted amid a great display of warmth and cordiality never witnessed before in the history of street defiance.
What new precedence in terms of street movement was set is the main point of discussion in this article. First, the participants were pretty much aware of allowing the smooth flow of emergency vehicles like the ambulance while the event was taking place. This is not only a single positive action but holds more prominence in terms of the participants’ desire to assess the gravity of the situation becoming sensitive to rescue the valuable life of the people. Second, the active involvement of people in cleaning the same area after the event also caught media headlines. As we were accustomed to seeing a filthy environment in the aftermath of similar rallies and protests in the past, the latest news has come as a bit of pleasant surprise. What’s more, even the non-participants of the event also played a major role in the cleaning campaign. This is something we all can emulate to make our own community a better place to live in.
Third, the picture of a prominent singer offering flower to the police as a symbol of social cohesion also gained greater currency. Unique in its approach, this strategy was adopted in a bid to pacify the security personnel with stick in their hands to punish the violators. The scene of the agitators offering water to the police on duty was worth watching.
A deeper analysis into these gestures indicate a desire on the part of the protestors to transform the culture of raising voices against the government. By now, it has been well established that even without resorting to violence, pressure can be exerted on government if the agendas command a huge support of the common people. Whether we look back into the days of Dr. Govinda Kc’s movement against the medical bill or the current peaceful assembly of the people cautioning the government to maintain the sanctity of our culture and traditions, this becomes pretty obvious.
Treating the state machinery as friend rather than an enemy also seems to be the implicit message behind such symbolic expressions. As a result, it could be seen that even the police were smiling at the protestors. Adhering to a peaceful and calm nature has definitely averted any undesirable scenario.
Nurturing an improved culture of venting out dissatisfaction and grievances against the state system has become important for many reasons. Being agitated in an irrational way doesn’t often provide long term solutions to the issues that have bothered us the most. It is pertinent to figure out a more tolerant way of expressing ourselves without hampering the general law and order situation of the country.
Hence, a model of civilised demonstration was on full display. At a time when various sectors are at odds with the government, sticking to exemplary ways of voicing their demands is desirable. On the one hand, this will help them get their issues heard through a non-violent means, on the other, it is likely that the government listens to them with due attention.
(The author is a member of the Social Science and Research Faculty at NIMS College) 

 

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