New Delhi: Urban street
protests, which shook the government and brought issues like
corruption and crimes against women to the centre stage of public
consciousness, represent a new kind of politics driven by an
assertive middle class and 24x7 TV news but have many a flip side,
"It is a new kind of politics. It is a reaction to the
misdemeanors of politicians and mis-governance. The middle class
which dominated these protests has become assertive," Zoya Hasan,
who teaches political science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University,
told IANS of the mass upsurge following the gang-rape of a
23-year-old woman and her subsequent death.
While there have been limited editions of such protests - for
instance after the razing of Ayodhya's Babri mosque and the
killing of ramp model Jessica Lal in the national capital - the
kind now being witnessed started in 2011 with social activist Anna
Hazare demanding a strong law to curb corruption. It resurfaced in
December 2012 to demand justice for the gang-rape victim and
stringent steps to ensure women were better protected.
But the urban street protests have a flip side and could turn
dangerous too, Hasan said.
"It has delineated itself from organised politics. It has no
agenda. It is leaderless, chaotic and lacks vision," she
"The danger is that it could lead to authoritarian solutions like
the protesters demanding the death sentence for rapists," Hasan
The angry protests against the gang rape, involving many young
women at Raisina Hill, India Gate and later at Jantar Mantar in
the political heart of the Indian capital, shook the government
out of its slumber and forced it to take quick steps to address
the systemic gaps.
The protests have jolted the collective conscience of the country.
Also, the mass outpouring of grief and outrage made young and old,
men and women come out on the streets to demand justice for the
victim and stronger anti-rape laws.
Jantar Mantar, the 18th century observatory that is a tourist
landmark, has become the popular protest site, where people,
mostly youngsters, continue their vigil even in the biting winter
chill, demanding better laws to make women of this country feel
What is also noticeable is that the current protest is not led by
any political party, leader or individual - which was a norm
during the Hazare campaign. It was spontaneous and coordinated and
mobilised largely via social media.
Activist Ranjana Kumari, who highlights women's issues, believes
the current protests are taking democracy to a new level and mark
a new phase redefining the role of the people in it.
"These protests are taking democracy to a new level and are a new
phase redefining the role of the people in it," Ranjana Kumari,
the director for Centre for Social Research, told IANS.
She said the urban street protests need to be guided by more
carefully planned thought and ideology.
"An absence of this can be hijacked by people who have no concern
for it," she said, adding: "It has to be a long-term sustained
Activist Arvind Gaur, who was part of the protests at Jantar
Mantar, termed the protests a "new kind of socio-political
awareness among youth" and said they will "strengthen democracy".
"Youth have shown they are aware of social issues. They did not
allow any political party to hijack the movement," said Gaur, a
well-known theatre director.
Claiming that "every political party wanted to lead the movement,"
he said: "Youth must be careful that the movement does not become
Activist Swami Agnivesh said the protests happened as the
political parties were falling short of the people's expectations.
"It was a spontaneous crowd and not an organised protest,"
Agnivesh, who was part of the Anna Hazare movement during the
initial days, told IANS of the Jantar Mantar protest.
He said lack of leadership and a clear ideological background were
both the strength and weakness of the movement.
(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at email@example.com)