Electoral Reforms
March 27, 2019
Manufacturing mandate
March 27, 2019


Learning to Protest



Thirty five years old Irom Sharmila of Manipur , India ,  has been on a fast-unto-death, for the past seven years,  demanding the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958.  With her piercing eyes, lips stretched tight in pain,  nose covered by a swatch of medical tape,  dependent on the yellow plastic nose pipe that provides her the liquids that keep her alive, Sharmila may have lost her physical strength, but not  her determination. “This is the least I can do.  It  is my  bounden duty to protest”, she says in a voice barely above a whisper.    One of the  longest peaceful political protests  ever recorded, Sharmila continues her one person struggle , even when she knows that the risk to her life is considerably higher than the  chances of her success.


Just across the border, Pakistan suffers from far more serious predicaments.  Its one hundred and sixty million people   have been relegated to the status of  bonded labor. Their  many future generations must slave to pay back  the  40 billion dollar foreign debt that was collected on behalf  of the ordinary citizens of Pakistan.  The people of Pakistan are  now  ruled by a serving commando who simultaneously heads a political party and also  contests elections while still retaining his uniform.  No one protests even at the dichotomy of the law that will punish a  “theley wala”  for the slightest  misconduct, but will pardon the criminals and thieves who looted billions of dollars to build palaces in foreign lands.



The people of Pakistan excel in the art  of suffering.  Affliction and adversity are seen as divine compensation for local misdeeds or simply a part of the Lord’s higher order per-ordained  strategy. To challenge , protest or question  are clearly  not a part of our temperament or tradition.    The educated middle classes, loaded with cynicism,  disillusionment and apathy, unwantingly  become a part of the very problem they grumble  so much about.      Protests  are considered  futile and better left to political parties,  NGOs or volunteer organizations.  Discussions   often   come around to a familiar foregone conclusion – “There is nothing we  can do that will make a change. In any case what can we do?”


How do ordinary citizens raise  their voice, make a contribution or lodge a peaceful protest on issues ranging from a complaint about  the special VIP check-in counters at the airports,  a protest  against  a serving military general fighting elections for a political post, or dissuading the government from taking fraudulent  foreign loans.  How do citizens stop these unlawful activities?  Recent movements by the  lawyers forum, the women’s groups and the journalists have shown that citizens when operating under organized platforms can cause a much greater impact.   Therefore the first option that the citizens could choose is to organize and raise their voice through   platforms  such  as doctors, engineers, architects, teachers, retired military personnel,  businessmen, traders, writers  and such other  professional groups. Public action litigation by individuals and groups is another powerful  but much  under-utilized method of taking up public causes.  Inviting courts’ attention for  suo-moto notice on important issues is another  option open to all citizens.   Finally, how do  citizens not belonging to any formal group  find  a space for their voice or actions?  While every citizen can not emulate  Irom Sharmila, there are  umpteen modes of protest that are an everyday possibility.  Citizens can refuse to participate in events organized   by corrupt officials and politicians.  They can make formal complaints to organizations against specific  wrongdoings. They  can resign from their government posts as a mark of protest. They can form like-minded groups and make collective representations. They can write  issue based articles  for the press.  They can boycott products and activities that degrade environments. They can use websites, and emails to form and organize protest groups.  Surely, it is time to explore these and other such options.  Even a harmless silent protest of wearing a black band can begin to  create a contagious movement.  Imagine the impact of a few million persons wearing black bands every day to protest on a specific issue. Clearly a forerunner for larger civil protest movements.



Naeem Sadiq

Dawn Oct 2007