Protests: Facts more important than narrative

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Protest movements across the world seem to have entered a new cycle beginning with the uprising in Tunisia in December 2010, then spreading in the Arab world – later to be known as the ‘Arab Spring’ – as a series of anti-government protests and armed rebellions in the early 2010s. They were in response to oppressive regimes and a low standard of living.

Initiated as peaceful or pacific marches that will not countenance the presence of others who think differently, suddenly a spark comes from no one knows where and then begins a cycle of violence. Photo – i0.wp.com/www.inventiva.co.in


This movement came a little over 40 years after the student revolt of Paris in 1968, which inspired student demonstrations in the US in the following year against the ‘war in Vietnam and oppressive policing’. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) led mass protests and sit-ins across the States but increasing factionalism within its ranks and the end of the Vietnam War contributed to its demise in the mid-Seventies (online source). Later student movements were ‘against apartheid, nuclear weapons, destruction of the environment and cuts in funding for education’.

The current cycle entered a new phase with the protracted Gilets jaunes uprising in Paris that triggered similar protests in some European countries, and next the widespread street protests in Hong Kong before it came to an end with the imposition of recently passed legislation in the country. In India there were the anti-CAA protests that led to the Delhi riots. That was before the confinement because of Covid-19. The latest series of protests arose in the US after the killing of Black American George Floyd by the police a few weeks ago, which led to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement across the country that has since been ongoing. The latest incident that has literally added more fuel to the fire is the shooting of another Black American, Jacob Blake by the police in Kenosha, Wisconsin where protests were already under way. The shooting has sparked a further wave of protests, some of which have turned violent after two people were killed and another injured on Tuesday night.

These protests follow a pattern: initiated as peaceful or pacific marches that will not countenance the presence of others who think differently, suddenly a spark comes from no one knows where and then begins a cycle of violence with clashes between the protesters and other people who are there. Inevitably, police present to maintain discipline get involved; in their turn they are attacked and retaliate, with shooting where police are allowed to be armed, and there then follows mayhem with arson, looting, damage to public property, attacks on innocent civilians, stone pelting, etc. Sadhguru of the Isha Foundation has made a very lucid and rational analysis of the phenomenon in a discussion with young people about the anti-CAA protests, which should be required viewing by anyone who is interested in gaining some understanding of the complexity of forces and issues that are involved.

In his analysis, Sadhguru with his own brand of subtle and intelligent humour puts emphasis on the facts which are the fundamental elements of concern for a truly objective assessment of any such situation, especially of the type that is about social issues which tend to raise passions. And this is the way it should be when any protest is undertaken, and I hope that this will be the case with the pacific march planned for tomorrow in Port Louis: stick to the facts, and not peddle narratives of a communal nature which are circulated on social media and taken as gospel truth. This is what happened with the flyers that were paraded during the earlier march which was about the injustices to workers that were deemed to be present in the Covid-19 Bill that was passed by the National Assembly.

These days, most people tend to resort to social media as their sole source of knowledge, instead of thinking for themselves based on facts and figures available before drawing their own conclusion. The focus of tomorrow’s march is supposed to be the Wakashio shipwreck and the impact that it has had on the region and the residents there, especially their livelihoods which depend on the fishing and touristic activities for which that coastal area – like others too around the country – are known for. Besides, another major issue is the damage that has been caused to the marine ecosystem in that stretch of the ocean, which is recognized by the UN as a unique biodiversity site. There are short-term and long-term environmental impacts that are to be analysed, along with the measures that must be undertaken to mitigate, correct and compensate for them. On top of that come the claims that will be made directly related to the shipwreck itself, and to the subsequent oil spill, which are complex enough as it is with all the legal and other complications that they entail.

Put together, one can see that there are more than enough issues about which there has been no clarity, and here again, we can learn from Sadhguru, who did not hesitate to say that in relation to the anti-CAA protests, somewhere along the line there had been a deficiency in communication on the part of government. This is also the generalized feeling here in relation to what needs to be known about the Wakashio incident, and it will help to restore both trust and sanity if the authorities were more forthcoming about the real facts relating to that incident, and provide more convincing answers than has hitherto been the case to the queries that the citizens are posing.

And if the protest march keeps that in mind and is able to extract from the authorities that they come clean with the what, how and why of this disaster that has traumatized the whole country, not to speak of the loss of global credibility, then it will truly have achieved a desired objective and rendered a great service to the people. That must, surely, be the aim of that march.


* Published in print edition on 25 August 2020

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