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The changing pitch of protests in the Covid-19 era

Mamuni Das New Delhi | Updated on August 11, 2020 Published on August 11, 2020

Alarm bells Dissent notes provide deeper insights into governance issues triloks

From vocal to silent, from offline to digital, novel forms of dissent are emerging

On Tuesday afternoon, a cacophony of honking could be heard on the borders of Madhya Pradesh. Transporters’ unions were blowing their horns in a concerted action to vent their anger against harassment on the roads and the culture of bribes.

With pandemic imposed distancing norms forbidding any physical gatherings, protestors are finding novel ways to seek change. The truckers in India borrowed a note from their global brethren to register their noisy protest.

“We got to know about this method of protest from France and Canada where truckers have resorted to such actions,” said Kultaran Singh Atwal, President, All India Motor Union Congress (AIMTC). In May, truckers in the US too had honked to outrage against the low freight rates.

Transporters in India have also been seeking removal of value added taxes (VAT) on diesel, respite from paying road taxes, among others, for several months now after the Covid-19 prompted lockdown. For three days — between August 10 and August 2 — trucks will boycott certain routes, the AIMTC has decided.

 

Digital protests

The old favourite ways of gheraos, rasta rokos, rallies and marches may not be possible in Covid times. But don’t think dissent is going to die. It is changing expression. Welcome to digital candle marches, online walk-outs, virtual petitions, hashtag campaigns and more to seek redressal and mobilise mass support.

Recently, the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in mysterious circumstances sparked digital candle-light protests seeking fair investigation. Over 2 million people participated. Fans lit candles on July 22, and posted photos, and videos tagging activist-lawyer Ishkaran Bhandari, who had initiated the campaign, on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Since lockdown, change.org, a global digital platform for protest, has seen an exponential rise in people using its services. From 2,550 petitions from India in February, it shot up to 8,492 in March and hit 23,032 in June. Nearly 1.5 crore Indians are on the platform which has seen wide ranging appeals including the need to protect doctors and healthcare workers, relax school fees and house rents, or rise against domestic violence.

“While the lockdown shut people inside their homes, it couldn’t cage their spirit ,” says Nida Hasan, Country Director, Change.org India.

Corporates too have borne the brunt of digital protests. In June, Facebook employees staged a virtual walk-out saying their company was doing too little about President Donald Trump’s response to protests on the brutal killing of George Floyd.

From physical to digital, vocal to silent, dissenters are certainly finding innovative ways to capture attention.

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Published on August 11, 2020
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