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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019

Forms of protest

It is time we evolved a code of conduct for the guidance of those who wish to register their disagreement with the state of affairs, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jul 11, 2008 22:23 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

It is time we evolved a code of conduct for the guidance of those who wish to register their disagreement with the state of affairs.

We do not have to go far to look for guidance. Our own Bapu Gandhi was the world’s greatest protester of all times. He had no doubts in his mind as to what was legitimate and what was not. Boycott was legitimate: he called for a boycott of foreign goods such as cloth — which could be made and was available in India. So was boycott of people who had no business to be in India — as his call to the English to ‘Quit India’.

Protest marches were also legitimate provided they did not disturb normal flow of life and did not inconvenience people.

His march to Dandi to make salt was a perfect example. He gave the government notice that its monopoly over manufacture of salt, a necessary ingredient in the diet of the poorest of the poor, was unjustified, and therefore he meant to break it.

He was arrested. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to imprisonment. Nevertheless, he won because his cause was just. When all other means failed, he went on fast till people realised that what he wanted was just and honourable and supported him. He never made public displays of his fasts.

By contrast, our protests marches of today — blocking traffic (raasta roko), stopping rail movements (rail roko), bandhs, gheraos — upset normal life and are forms of arm-twisting and blackmail. They are unjustified, dishonourable and usually fail to achieve their purpose. Bapu would never lend his support to such forms of protests.

When it comes to legitimate forms of protests, we should look up to members of State and Central Legislatures as our role models.

Until the end of Pandit Nehru’s regime as Prime Minister of the country, they behaved with rectitude. Rarely, if ever, did they rush down to the Wells of the Houses to shout slogans or bray like a pack of mules.

Today, it has become a norm to stall proceedings by unseemly behaviour. It almost seems that the days of the parliamentary form of democracy are over. It is easy to cast the blame on the new breed of politicians.

While doing so, remember you and I have elected them and made them our lawmakers.

Ground for Prayer
In the days when you couldn’t count on a public toilet facility, an English woman was planning a trip to India. She was registered to stay in a guesthouse owned by the local schoolmaster. She was concerned as to whether the guesthouse contained a WC.

In England, a bathroom is commonly called a WC — or Water Closet. She wrote to the schoolmaster inquiring of the facilities about the WC. The schoolmaster asked the local priest if he knew the meaning of WC. Together, they pondered possible meanings of the letters and concluded that the lady wanted to know if there was a ‘Wayside Chapel’ near the house… A bathroom never entered their minds. So the schoolmaster replied:

"I take pleasure in informing you that a WC is located nine miles from the house. It is located in the middle of a grove of pine trees, surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and is open on Sundays and Thursdays. As there are many people expected in the summer months, I suggest you arrive early. There is however plenty of standing room.
This is an unfortunate situation especially if you are in the habit of going regularly. It may be of some interest to you that my daughter was married in the WC as it was there that she met her husband. It was a wonderful event. There were 10 people in every seat. It was wonderful to see the expressions on their faces. We can take photos in different angles. My wife, sadly, has been ill and unable to go recently. It has been almost a year since she went last, which pains her greatly. You will be pleased to know that many people bring their lunch and make a day of it... I would recommend your ladyship to plan to go on a Thursday, as there is an organ accompaniment. The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard everywhere... We are holding a bazaar to provide plush seats for all since many feel it is long needed. I look forward to escorting you there myself and seating you in a place where you can be seen by all.”

The woman fainted reading the reply — and she never visited India!!!

(Courtesy: Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)

May Storms
The mid-May dust storm that swept over Delhi turning the day into a night for nearly an hour followed by downpour reminded me of similar storms in my younger days. The pattern was somewhat as follows: the sky suddenly became overcast; huge swarms of locusts numbering billions descended on every tree and started gobbling up leaves; some Muslim brethren spread their bed-sheets on their roof tops to trap them and make pakoras of them.

Then came dust blowing in great fury followed by squalls of rain. The temperature dropped by a few degrees and rain washed away the dust leaving everything clean and green.

My Muslim friends are cagey about their forefathers eating locusts, a species of tropical grasshoppers which migrates from North Africa across the Middle-East to Pakistan and India. In Latin America, they are known as locust migratoria.

They are very destructive and recalled in the Bible where there is mention of plagues, of devastation caused by visitations
of locusts and wild hoey.

These days we don’t see invasions by tiddee dals, army of locusts. But I have vivid memories of them. If by any chance they make a comeback while I am still around and I can persuade my cook to make pakoras of them, I will have a few with my evening drink.