“The Indian Spring” does not exist | Kabir Taneja

“The Indian Spring” does not exist

As Justice JS Verma Committee announced the results of its findings in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape case, the momentum of the movement, if you may, remains solid in the online world even as people stop taking their anger to the streets but continue to push New Delhi for urgent amendments in both governance and policing.

However, the protests that the world watched at Raisina Hill, as important, relevant and awaited as they may have been were not even remotely close to the protests seen in the Arab world over the past few years.

Fareed Zakaria, a prominent American journalist was probably the first to use the term “The Indian Spring” in his column for The Washington Post just a few days back. This then took off on social networking sites and many started using the term to describe the scenes that unfolded in Delhi which, unfortunately, did see some violent clashes between the protesters and the police.

Mr Zakaria, who wrote his column from India, narrated an interpretation of the events in Delhi from a perspective that lacks the view of a ground level perspective. In all probability, many people who were significantly involved in both attending and organising these protests would have agreed that what ticked off Delhi was something entirely different and incomparable to what ticked off Tunis in late 2010.

First and foremost, these protests in Delhi were not the first time social justice has brought people onto the streets in India. Mass agitations in the country related to rape, women’s rights and injustice have happened in the past, just not in the national capital at this scale, giving easy access to both the middle class and the media. Women of the North East have protested with bare naked bodies against the sexual crimes committed by CRPF men in Imphal, the capital of Manipur. This is just one of many examples throughout the country, specifically in rural India, of apathy against crime and delayed justice. Not every protest in India revolves around caste or demands of “preferential treatment from the government,” as Mr Zakaria puts it. You need to see beyond the discourse of the metro cities and the middle class for this.

The Arab Spring was largely a movement against tyranny, economic gloom, joblessness along with elevating the cause of minorities. What started in Tunisia quickly turned into complicated scenarios in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and attempted uprising in states such as Bahrain and Jordan. Tunisia was sparked by the self-immolation of a street-vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi, as he protested harassment by thugs in the local government. Although Tunisia was fuelled further with reasons such as lack of political freedom, corruption, food inflation and so on, other examples such as Libya, Egypt and up to Syria have had different reasons for their own upheavals. Every country in the Arab Spring has an original footprint to their respective revolutions with the only commonality being the outcome of regime changes across the region.

The Delhi protests were due to none of the reasons which led to the Arab Spring. The protesters were not angry about their political situation or unemployment or the economy or inflation, but they were angry about security, lack of implementation of efficient governance and as Mr Zakaria correctly pointed out, lack of functional and quick use of the courts to put perpetrators of crimes such as rape behind bars.

The protests in Delhi were led by two factors. Firstly, the young middle class, which has always been an astute force, both electorally and economically, being challenged by the government’s attempts to muzzle their right to peaceful protest. Secondly, lack of culpability, both of the rapists by the frameworks of justice and by the police who failed to provide basic protection infrastructure to the citizens.

The methods, via which the Delhi protests were organised and executed, are indeed similar to how the Arab Spring in many countries gained momentum. Social media services such as Twitter and Facebook played big roles, specifically in countries such as Egypt. Even the glimpses of protests in Iran were fuelled via Twitter as the US government even asked the management of the micro-blogging site to defer any planned scheduled maintenance which may disrupt the flow of information coming out of Tehran. Facebook, mobile phones, text messages and all such means of communications in the modern era helped the Delhi protests reach a wide variety of people giving them up to date information.

In a later interview with The New York Times, Mr Zakaria clarified that India is indeed very different to the circumstances, both social and political, of the Arab Spring. He terms social oppression in the country more deep rooted than political oppression. While noting this, he seems to have slipped on his own observation relating to the protests earlier, which were indeed fuelled by social oppression than political, making the event completely opposite to the Arab Spring.

Keeping all this in mind, it is wrong to compare the Delhi protests to the Arab Spring, let alone give it a similar moniker. The “Indian Spring” does not exist, however a powerful sense of frustration and lack implementation of laws to protect citizens’ basic rights has shown face in the Indian middle class, which usually dormant and self-involved, took to the streets this time to demand change.

(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)

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