Why India often sees violent protests?
Empty hands and minds are always the den of evils. Empowering deprived, marginalized and exploited sections of society is essential for India’s peace and development
If one dissects a bit deep, he will find multiple reasons behind sudden eruption of violence in India, but the most poignant among them is our failure in developing a national character, which not only fights the menace of caste and religion based discrimination in any form but also ensures equitable distribution of national resources, opportunities, facilities and responsibilities among all, which is seen as a natural response to their rising aspirations and keenness to be active partners in building a strong and vibrant India
Violence in a country as diverse as India is fraught with socio-economic and political repercussions. Protests, when they turn violent, leave behind a trail of devastation! From north to south, east to west, India has witnessed multiple violent protests – carried out on one pretext or the other – which have only left us brutally bruised as a nation. The worst victims of violence are the country's poor and low income group people. Peaceful protests lend credence and strengthen democracy and also make the administration more accountable, responsible and inclusive. Unfortunately, most protests in our country have a violent dimension. Unfortunately, the subsequent punitive action against guilty lead to allegations and counter allegations of discrimination in the name of caste or religion, thus further vitiating the atmosphere. It is a painful situation indeed as even after 75 years of Independence we have not been able to learn how to behave ourselves as citizens and how to bring home our point to an elected government so that corrective measures if required are initiated. Failure to do so is collective and each of us must own our bit of responsibility. After all, violence affects all directly or indirectly. It does not make any difference whether one is a passive onlooker of acts of violence or active participants.
If one dissects a bit deep, he will find multiple reasons behind sudden eruption of violence in our country but the most poignant among them is our failure in developing a national character, which not only fights the menace of caste and religion based discrimination in any form but also ensures equitable distribution of national resources, opportunities, facilities and responsibilities among all, which is seen as a natural response to their rising aspirations and keenness to be active partners in building a strong and vibrant India. Unity in diversity is a great legacy, which we have inherited from our founding fathers. It is an asset which must be protected, preserved and promoted in multifarious positive ways to further strengthen our national fabric. It is fair to presume and believe that a lot of measures have been taken in the past 75 years to bridge socio-political and economic gaps among different social groups but the yawning income disparities persist to worry the policy makers and civil society. On the other hand, the rich-poor divide marked by caste-religion based discrimination and exclusion at different levels must not be allowed to flourish. It is certainly not a healthy situation as gaps caused by one sided development contribute to social dissidence and quite often also serve as a catalyst for violence.
The economic cost of violence is too high in our country. There are multiple reports which point to the damaging impact the violence has on our economy. As per the assessment made in the Global Peace Index (GPI), violence cost the world a whopping $16.5 trillion in 2020 and India $646 billion. It is a huge amount, which could have taken care of most of the critical welfare needs of the country. Violence cost the country's economy over Rs 80 lakh crore in 2017 in terms of constant purchasing power parity, as per the report prepared by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) based on an analysis of 163 countries and territories. The riots over the Cauvery dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in 2016 cost the economy between Rs 22,000 crore and Rs 25,000 crore as was estimated by the industry body Assocham. Similarly, Punjab incurred property losses up to Rs 7,000 crore on account of the violence in 2009 as per the estimates arrived at by the Assocham. Punjab had been wracked by widespread violence by the followers of Dera Sachh Khand sect protesting against the attack on religious leaders in a Gurdwara in Vienna.
What is the way out? How to ensure that our people do not indulge in violence while protesting? How to make them realize that public properties belong to them and any damage to those properties has a serious bearing on the economic health of the country and the repercussions of which will also impact their lives? The task is indeed challenging but not impossible! There is a need to build a national character, which cannot happen overnight but can certainly be done through a number of enabling and equalizing measures. All said and done, we have not been able to build a national character, sense of citizenry accountability, empathy and sympathy even after 75 years of independence despite imbibing democracy, which is so vibrant. A critical lapse on the part of policy makers has been their inability to end colonial mode of education. Instead of adopting the 'one nation, one education' policy, we have now reserved high end quality education for the rich among us and the rest is for others. The merit of the poor continues to be the painful casualty of their poverty. Our education facilities are creating different types of citizens. Those stepping out of elite institutions consider themselves as the first among equals and superior to all. It is a serious stumbling block in building a national character.
Since most quality opportunities in private and public sectors are grabbed by those having studied in top institutions, much is not left for OBCs, SCs, STs and other poor students, who graduate from institutions where the quality of education is not in sync with the high standards of competitive exams. Some of them certainly come out with flying colours by virtue of their sheer determination and affirmative measures like reservation but they are always deprived of their rightful share in national job opportunities and resources. It comes with a huge cost which they have been paying one after another generation. Thus, they have not been able to break the vicious circle of poverty. It is high time for India as a nation to identify households where not even a single family member is into a regular kind of job nor do they have enough resources to improve their ease of life. Identifying such families will not be a difficult task at all. The available data with regard to those living below the poverty line and those marginally above the poverty line will be handy in identifying such households. Empty hands and minds are always the den of evils. Let India's 'Amrit Kaal' be dedicated to the wholesome empowerment of deprived, marginalized and exploited sections of society for sustainable peace and development.
(The writer is a senior journalist, author and columnist. The views expressed are strictly personal)