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Protest, but not at others' cost

Taking to the streets at the drop of a hat has diminished the value of this democratic weapon.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2013 00:52 IST
Hindustan Times
Sushilkumar Shinde,hindustan times,news

Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde was not at home, but the protestors who forced their way into his residence made themselves quite at home until the police put an end to their impromptu party. Mr Shinde was away in Russia on an official visit when approximately 200 protesters, who had gathered outside his house, damaged his gate and unlawfully entered the premises and staged a sit-in. Demanding reservation for their Jat community, 142 of these protesters courted arrest. Protest at whatever cost seems to have become part of our collective DNA. Just recently, an unseemly chain of events was set in motion when students reportedly belonging to the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad protested the manhandling of chief minister Mamata Banerjee and finance minister Amit Mitra in the capital by breaking into Kolkata's Presidency College and ransacking the historic Baker Laboratory, which amongst other scientists, can boast to have once been the workplace of figures like Satyendra Nath and Jagadish Chandra Bose. Thugs, under the guise of protest, chased girl students around the campus, threatening them with rape and assault. This was to protest against a protest by the comrades in which Ms Banerjee and Mr Mitra were manhandled.

While protests are a commonplace occurrence both in Kolkata and New Delhi, it is their assertive arrival into homes and universities that is unnerving. Late last month, when protestors in Tamil Nadu demanded that the Centre take a tougher stand on Sri Lanka, railway tracks and streets were blocked, post offices were picketed and even educational institutions were shut down. Only two years ago, Hyderabad witnessed scenes of Telangana protestors burning buses and hurling stones at security personnel. An outright disregard for everyday public life must be condemned and even though a public protest is the right of any citizen in a democracy, it cannot be conducted in a manner that impedes the functioning of other citizens who may not share the protestors' views. The protests following the December 16 gang rape are often hailed as successful because they did not disrupt normal life too much.

To put it simply, my right to protest cannot be at the cost of your right to blocking your passage to wherever you are going. Allowing protests, which have the potential to turn violent, cannot be explained away as being part of freedom of expression. Every precaution must be taken in such cases. Allowing hordes of people to take over busy thoroughfares causing hardship to non-protestors can only detract from sympathy for the cause. Protest by all means, but it must be done in an orderly and non-intrusive fashion. Public anger against constant protests in our cities has diminished their potency as an effective weapon. The social and economic costs of these protests have been enormous. A public protest should be used most judiciously. If people take to the streets at the drop of a hat, protests become wearisome and irrelevant.

First Published: Apr 12, 2013 21:00 IST