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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 24 New Delhi June 2, 2018

Culture of Protest

Saturday 2 June 2018, by Sandeep Pandey

In an amazing display of goodwill bus drivers of the Ryobi group in Okayama, Japan have staged a protest not by striking work but by continuing to drive, without charging fares from passengers. The Ryobi group is facing tough competition from another group, Megurin, which is offering reduced fares to passengers. The intended message is that the Ryobi drivers value the interest of passengers more than their own. This mode of protest is winning accolades from the people.

Protests, even if they are not violent, are usually associated with at least some form of aggression. It is common belief of social-political organisations that only militant action can yield quick and decisive results. Pacifism is considered a sign of weakness. But time and again, peaceful actions have proved to be effective. Mahatma Gandhi, who is often criticised for his philosophy and strategy of non-violence by the Right-wing Hindutva groups today in India, was the most effective among all groups which were trying to win independence for India from the British rule. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organisation of the Right-wing groups, did not even participate in the freedom struggle. In fact, its Deputy Chief Minister in Bengal, Shyama Prasad Mukherji, suggested to the British that the ‘Quit India’ Movement of 1942 should be crushed lest it would create disturbances in the country.

Recently about 35-40,000 farmers belonging to the All India Kisan Sabha, associated with Communist Party of India-Marxist, organised a peaceful 180 km long march, demanding complete waiver of loans and electricity bills, implemen-tation of the Swaminathan Commission report and Forest Rights Act. The march started on March 5, 2018 in Nasik and ended at Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha in Mumbai on March 12. On the final day, when inside the Mumbai city, in a rare gesture the farmers marched in early hours of the day starting at 1 am so that morning office-goers and children going to appear for the Board examinations would not face any commuting problem or harassment. This was in stark contrast to the usual mindset guiding even small marches to hold the traffic to ransom. A march is considered to be successful only if it can cause disruption of traffic. The AIKS march will be remembered for a long time for its display of civility and thoughtfulness.

In countries like India, corruption and negligence of duty is not only a norm but considered ‘smart’ things to do. The honest and diligent are ridiculed and/or not allowed to work and obstacles are created in their path. People in influential positions practice rampant nepotism, casteism and communalism. While merit takes a back seat, money power earns respect. It is interesting that most people in positions of power in our country today are still from upper-caste background, who also oppose the policy of caste-based reservation on the pretext that it dilutes merit. But it is the same set of people who promote mediocrity and corruption in public life. Their brains are put to work to camouflage corruption and to block genuine work at the behest of their politicla masters. It is not uncommon for a complainant to attract a false case if s(he) doesn’t have political backing and for a resourceful and well-connected criminal to go scot free. Laws and rules are bent to suit the interest of the influential and rich people. Political groups try to take advantage of the administrative-legal system to serve their vested interests. This is the model of governance that today’s India has created.

Since merit is no longer the criterion, except for a minuscule few, and political patronage is essential to become part of the coveted system, even the education system has been thoroughly corrupted. Teaching is a work accorded least priority in educational institutions and methods have been perfected by administrators, teachers and the students-parents, under willing political patronage, to beat the system. The whole emphasis is on getting high marks through foul means, if not fair, with scant regard for gaining knowledge.

Hence actions like those of the AIKS come as a fresh air in the backdrop of a gloomy and self- defeating scenario. If we’re to evolve into a mature and humane society, then we’ll not only have to value such actions but also to replicate them. The destructive mind must be replaced by a constructive one. Selfish attitude must be replaced by a Samaritan one. Integrity and honesty must prevail over all kinds of corrupt practices. Love must replace hatred. A culture of respect for diversity must prevail over all kinds of caste, class, religious, gender, ethnic differences and biases. Every human being must be treated as an equal member of society. Interest of the self should be linked to higher level interests of the society and nature.

There are many dedicated and committed individuals who, regardless of the discouraging environment around them, continue to give their best to society. But such collective actions are few and far between. People come together, more easily, for disruptive rather than charitable causes. It is common belief that it is easier to mobilise people on sensational issues rather than on some society-building agenda. This is the dominant political culture in India today. A society which otherwise considers itself to be peaceful and humanitarian has given in to sectarian and fundamentalist thinking. Contro-versy is news and genuine actions commonplace.

The recent actions of bus drivers in Japan and farmers in Maharashtra, India, hold some hope for a better future. They are proof that seeds of the idea for a reformed society are alive and wait for an opportunity to germinate. The objective of all human activity, especially under adverse conditions when humans are likely to lose sanity, should be to create a supportive atmosphere so that the flower of humanity blooms.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey is the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India). He was elected to this post at the founding conference of the party at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.

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