Protest and the City

Photo: the weekend leader

The farmer protest on the Delhi borders enters its 19th day. It was around 25th November that farmer unions and farmers from the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and UP descended on the national capital and were stopped at the borders. 

They have pitched in tents, are sleeping under the trucks, in trolleys and in makeshift shelters. Already about 10 deaths have been reported from amongst the protestors. 5 rounds of talks have taken place between the government and the 40 farmers’ unions. Braving the cold, they are adamant on the repealing of the laws which they find against their interest. 

The government at its end is trying various methods to end the protest. It started off with blocking the farmers on their way to Delhi, of allowing them to protest only at a remote designated space, announcing them naxals, Khalistanis, to the protests being politically managed. On the positive, the government has shown the magnanimity of diluting the laws by announcing certain changes. 

Amongst all this the normal city life goes on. 

The idea behind any protest to reach the centre of governance is that it can be visible, understood and heard by the common people as well as the decision makers. One designated place for such protests in Delhi used to be the lawns along the Rajpath. Then it got shifted to Jantar Mantar and Ramlila Maidan. All the locations being central to the city, hence their symbolism. Now, these locations are slowly being shifted out to remote locations in the city which bear no consequence. One example is the suggestion of Burari grounds for farmers’ agitation.  

It is the duty of the government to ensure that the voices of the protestors are heard and the issue resolved at the earliest. When the government creates a distance between them and itself then the chances of resolve become unyielding. Along with this, a common thread like “ to save the people from any discomfort”, “to avoid traffic snarls”, to the most atrocious “to save the environment from sound pollution”, is used to keep the protests away from public view. 

As Shiv khera quotes “ If INJUSTICE is happening to your neighbour and you can SLEEP, WAIT for your turn. You are NEXT”, we see the protestors as outsiders disturbing the tranquility of our city. If we don’t listen to their cause, when our turn will come, and it will, then we also wont have anyone to stand by ourselves. 

Here the issue is of the protesting farmers being designated as disruptors of public order and being kept away from public view. A similar corollary was the Shaheen Bagh protest, where the aggrieved took to the street, made it their own and forced the government to listen to them.

The government will always force the issue on public inconvenience and try to paint the protestors as disrupters. It is for us to understand that our minor inconvenience is a matter of life and death for someone. The government should understand that the urban spaces are made up of not just infrastructure but political and social choices as well. It is for these choices, along with infrastructure, that people want to live in cities. 

Reducing the cities to just infrastructure diminishes the social and political impact that the urban space has on our minds. They are an expression of our freedom, of choice and the government and the citizens, both, need to realise this. 

 

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