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How would you protest?

By Kamna Arora | Last Updated: Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 16:30
Kamna Arora
Éminence Grise

A parade of half-naked women flashed the Georgian embassy in Ukraine in July. Holding fake cameras and posters saying “No pictures – no democracy!” the topless women from the Ukrainian FEMEN movement were protesting the arrests of three photojournalists.

We all are familiar with the usual style of protesting, i.e. shouting slogans, organising marches and rallies. But the demonstrators are coming out with creative ideas to get themselves heard. As social movements evolved, the styles of protest have also changed. Although different types of protests catch the attention of international media also, yet none of them has managed to pose real threat to governments.

Earlier this year, another protest that caught the eye was the one held by half-naked girls against the war in Libya. The young girls captivatingly descended on the European Commission in Moscow and brought with them mattresses with Gaddafi portraits. Their slogans were not less interesting either: “Send to sleep the spirit of war!” and “Mattress and breasts – forget about war”. Despite the eye-catching protest, it failed to change anything on the ground. Libya is still fighting to save its soul from its own rulers.

In some countries, however, these types of demonstrations have unnerved the ruling elite. For example, the so-called clapping protests have become a headache for the iron-fisted authorities in Belarus. Organised with the help of social media, this form of anti-government protest in the authoritarian former Soviet nation involved clapping and phone beeps. In a country where the government has prohibited rallies, demonstrators set the alarms on their cell phones to go off at a fixed time in a token action to awaken fellow Belarusians up and defy Alexander Lukashenko's government.

There is no doubt that Internet has of late played a key role in inflaming emotions and mobilising protesters against the regimes, whose draconian laws have always meted out harsh punishments on any protests. But it takes courage and will to assemble and register dissent on an issue. However, the innovative forms of protest have given a chance to protesters to vent anger symbolically.

Russian protesters last year tried a novel idea to limit accidents involving VIP vehicles. The “blue buckets” activists protested against official cars using flashing lights to give them favoured passage by affixing blue plastic cups to their cars or their heads.

Sometimes, the tactic and time of protest are so influential that there is no group effort required at all. For example, a protester gained all the attention when he threw a pie at media mogul Rupert Murdoch during a parliamentary hearing in the UK. Although pie-throwing is not a new form of protest, yet its targets can be recalled easily. This kind of protest does not require large numbers, but just the perfect time and place.

Do I need to remind anyone of shoeing? This form of protest has taken place in many countries, and its most famous target was former US president George W Bush. Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at Bush in a December 14, 2008 press conference in Baghdad, Iraq, and set the precedent for similar shoe throwing incidents across the world, including India.

Creative protests are yet to be seen in India, where hunger-strikes or fasts have long been an essential part of the resistance. Mahatma Gandhi several times adopted hunger-strike as a method to protest against the British colonial rule. The “world's longest hunger striker" is an Indian too. Irom Chanu Sharmila, also known as the "Iron Lady of Manipur", has been on hunger strike since November 02, 2000, to demand that the Indian government repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. This makes me wonder if hunger strikes are still an effective form of protest in India?

First Published: Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 16:30

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