Arguing that a group loses right to protest because it hasn’t protested over another is absurd

History is full of examples where protests over a single instance of injustice have led to a massive transformation in society.

 |  3-minute read |   09-09-2017
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Dismissing a protest based on the argument that the agitating group did not previously protest a similar incident is turning out to be one of the most widely used tools in Indian politics. Those protesting the murder of Bangalore-based journalist Gauri Lankesh are being called out for not having protested the murder of other journalists, or even other murders.

The #NotImMyName campaign spread across the country to protest the instances of mob lynching in the country, especially against Muslims and Dalits, but their legitimacy was attacked by people questioning why they hadn’t protested the killing of RSS workers in Kerala.

After terrorists attacked pilgrims returning from the Amarnath Yatra in Kashmir on July 10, 2017, many took to social media to attack the organisers of #NotInMyName for not protesting the killing of the Hindu pilgrims.

protest_090817110911.jpgOutrage by its very nature must be selective. Photo: Reuters

Perhaps, anticipating this reaction, the organisers of #NotInMyName organised a protest against the attack on the yatris, but their protest against the killing of Muslims and Dalits should have been held valid regardless of their outrage — or its lack thereof — on other occasions.

The argument that a group loses the right to protest over a specific issue solely because it hasn’t protested over another is an absurd one to make. It is usually done to show that the protesters are politically motivated, but the argument itself is the worst way to demonstrate it.

Some of the most progressive movements in history are based on protests sparked over an individual incident. The outrage that was witnessed in Delhi in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya rape case in 2012 has led to the enactment of several laws, including a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years for gang rape and the establishment of six new fast-track courts created solely for rape prosecutions.

It also ensured the conviction of those guilty for the rape, which would statistically not be the case without the outrage. A cornerstone of the protests by African Americans in the United States for civil rights is the incident at Montgomery, Alabama where a young black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger. The incident became an important symbol for the Civil Rights movement, which eventually led to the end of racial segregation in the United States.

History clearly records that she wasn’t the first person to defy racial segregation laws on a bus, but it is that specific incident that sparked the required outrage for societal transformation.

rosa-p_090817111323.jpgHistory clearly records that she wasn’t the first person to defy racial segregation laws on a bus, but it is that specific incident that sparked the required outrage for societal transformation. Photo: Reuters File

It would be absurd to argue that people protesting the Nirbhaya rape, or those supporting Rosa Parks, had no right to do so because they hadn’t protested similar instances of gross violation of human rights in the past.

History is full of examples where protests over a single instance of injustice have led to a massive transformation in society. Everyone has a right to protest and voice their opinion for the causes that they have personally chosen, and to belittle that protest by pointing out that the person hasn’t stood up for a different cause detracts from the constructive debates that our society urgently needs.

Everyone has a right to disagree with a protest and it is imperative to point out instances where the outrage is manufactured, but stating that the same group hasn’t protested a different cause isn’t evidence of a manufactured protest.

It is usually only the evidence of the lack of a better argument to support your own side. Outrage by its very nature must be selective. It is impossible for any individual or group to express outrage at every instance of injustice in the world and no one must be deprived of their right to protest for not having expressed their outrage in the past or on a different issue.

[Disclaimer: The author works in Data Analytics and Election Campaign Management for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).]

Also read: Gauri Lankesh's murder marks the end of an era of Indian journalism

Writer

Shivam Shankar Singh Shivam Shankar Singh @inshivams

Campaign Strategist | @BJP4India | Ex-@IndianPAC | LAMP 2015-16. @UMich Economics. Contributor @HuffPostIndia. Views expressed are personal.

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