30 May 2009

The culture of protest

Reports coming in from Kolkata tell us that people in the city have taken to the streets in protest of inadequate relief and the collapse of civic facilities.

None of this is news for people in Delhi. Here we protest against everything - water supply, electricity breakdown, demolition drive, CNG and of course Sanskrit. And I am not even including the hundreds of political parties, trade unions or other groups who come to protest in the city every year.

In contrast, when I was in Mumbai during the 2005 floods I was surprised by the lack of anger in the city as electricity and water was not restored even after four days. A friend and I went down to the market to get drinking water. The local neighbourhood shop was selling bottled water at four times the price. When I pointed out that in any other city the shop owner would have been beaten up for doing that, my friend smiled. Further discussion provoked a response that violence is not a solution in a crisis situation and only complicates matter.

Mumbai has always had a culture of protest. Right from the Royal Naval Mutiny, to the taxi unions strike in support of the Railway strike of 1974 and the mill workers strike in 1982. The 2005 floods saw a breakdown of civic infrastructure on a huge scale and the bureaucrats and politicians kept passing the buck for the entire month after.

There was not one protest. No one was bothered. It seemed like people had become indifferent. As long as their immediate problems were solved and they could go about their work they were not interested. To protest means to bring things to a standstill and drawing attention to your self and your problems. It seems like people in Mumbai do not want to do that any more. But we easily tend to forget it was the culture of protest that helped us win our freedom a few decades back.

When did it become unfashionable to protest for what we think is right?

PS Google disagrees with me. A search for "Kolkata" and "protest" yields much less results compared to "Mumbai" and "protest". But most of the "protest" results for Mumbai are the ones after the terror attacks which were not really protests. Where were the bricks and lathis man?


Life@60 said...

You come to Kerala and you will know how wrong you are! When Saddam Hussian was hanged , the Muslims in this town forced everyone to close down their shops and they marched to protest against the autocratic Bush !
I was stunned to listen to their slogans in chaste Malayalm. It went something like " We will see you Mr.Bush! We will teach you Mr.Bush"

Blue said...

Kolkata does have its share of protests, no matter what the web dredge throws up...work happens at a snail's pace anyway, so a protest that grinds the city to a halt is merely a pause in the already somnolent Rabindra-Sangeet-lament of a life...as for Mumbai, if the majority have chosen to abstain from their greatest collective weapon, their individual votes in a democractic election, that is evidence enough of the 'chalta hai' attitude. Yes, they're business-like and pragmatic and all that, but they seem like the total antithesis of the Mallus that Life@60 has mentioned..surely, there must be a middle ground...