What Hong Kong’s largely peaceful protesters can teach demonstrators in India
- In contrast to the civic-mindedness on evidence in Hong Kong’s rallies, large-scale protests in India tend towards violence that targets government infrastructure. What accounts for the difference?
Identity is a recurring theme of protests in India too. However, unlike in Hong Kong, where the protests seek to preserve a singular Hong Kong identity, in India, people identify with different groups, each of which champions its own cause.
The reason protests are destructive in India goes beyond the need to be heard.
Violence is a force multiplier as it spreads fear, demanding a reaction by disrupting normal life. Violence also carries with it the threat of its recurrence. However, destroying infrastructure, such as public transport, is a symptom of a deeper malaise.
In India, there is government indifference towards infrastructure – its provision and maintenance. When protesters destroy public transport, it is thus not just an expression of anger and a response to the government’s apathy towards the people, but a mirror of that callousness.
Violence can also be seen as people – usually ignored – reclaiming or asserting power, even if for a short time. Thus, the cause gets subsumed by a group’s need to make its presence felt.
The savagery of protests in India suggests the absence of a safety valve that attends to grievances before they erupt into marauding discontent. It also points to the education system’s failure to inculcate a sense of responsibility towards public goods and society in general.
Protesters in Hong Kong see themselves as custodians of their hometown, a sense of responsibility that extends to other aspects of life – on escalators, people stand aside to give way to others and, on the MTR, those wishing to enter wait for passengers to exit. Public property and utilities in Hong Kong are dependable and well maintained. There is a symbiosis between the government, which maintains and provides utilities, and the people, who use them with consideration.
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This is lacking in Indian society and government. Rather, the idea of trusteeship in India is parochially limited to the self and identity silos.
Despite the socio-economic difference between Hong Kong and India, the causes of protests in both places are similar. However, the implications of Hong Kong’s higher socio-economic status are reflected in how protests are conducted and the citizenry’s response to them. Ultimately, though, a government’s commitment to its people and the progress of society can be measured by the ferocity and frequency of protests.
Samir Nazareth has worked in the development sector and writes on sociopolitical and environmental issues. He is the author of the travelogue, 1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People