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Public protests: Be heard, not hurt

Published Apr 09, 2012 01:56pm


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The year 2011 was marked with revolutionary movements in which people, hailing from various quarters of the globe unanimously, fought with the system to restore their freedom and rights as equal, law abiding citizens. The famous Tahrir Square in Egypt and Occupy Movement of United States are a few revolutionary names which shook and toppled the prevalent ‘orders’ of the day.

The freedom of speech and expression entitles everyone to protest within certain parameters of law. Peaceful protests to express grief, to mourn or to propose demands are welcomed because such efforts are an evidence of the public’s cognizance and are considered a way to reach out to the authorities that perhaps are otherwise not approachable.

Given the current state of affairs in Pakistan, with inflationary pressures squeezing the leftover life out of the public, ethnic cleansing wiping out entire generations of families, civilian killings by drone strikes and unemployment, congregations of people protesting has become an extremely common sight.

Being a devout preacher and advocate of human rights, I personally believe that people when feel that they have been wronged and denied justice, have the right to protest and raise their voices so that their issues can be addressed. I also understand that the plight of victims of the injustices of our system is difficult to be curtailed, which is why protests seem an appropriate outlet to discharge human emotions.

However, protests when turned violent or protests that disrupt business and day-to-day operations of any entity and harm public interest in general should not be taken as tools to manipulate figures of authority and government officials.

The recent protest which took the entire country by storm was the one organised by nurses and paramedical staff, who were very rightly demanding an increase in their wages and perks from the government. Though the protest and subsequent march were peaceful, it was unnecessarily and very inhumanely disrupted by police officials, who attacked female paramedical staff with water cannons. Additionally, the three children who lost their lives because of the absence of paramedical staff remain an unpardonable offence.

In order to serve our own interest, which perhaps is only human nature, we tend to disregard the welfare of other people who do not play any role in the injustices carried out against us. People who are killed or injured in the aftermath of protests, staged against any form of unfairness, are also citizens of the same country and are perhaps embroiled in their own struggle to survive as individuals and families.

Whilst talking to a friend who works for Karachi Electric Supply Company as a Manager and has been a victim of multiple protests organised by the labour union, also called CBA, said on condition of anonymity, “The first and most violent protests occurred on January 20, 2011. Our head office at Sunset Boulevard was ransacked by leaders and representatives of the labour union.”

“They started pelting stones at the building which is made of glass. They invaded the parking lot, attacked and torched our cars, vandalised property and left us all in a state of shock. All I remember is shrapnel and shards of glass scattered everywhere and bashed cars which were beyond repair. When they left the premises of our office, not a single car, door or window was intact,” she added

“I understand that their contract was terminated and they were angry towards the management but what was our fault? We are also a part of the same unfair system and have no say in the management’s decisions, then why punish us?”

Shortly, the head office and other regional offices of the utility provider were shut for over a month whereas the issue, along with the violence, still resurfaces from time to time.

We have a tendency to blame most of our wrongs on illiteracy and lack of awareness; however, it is not unwise to say that students, who are considered the epitome of knowledge and tolerance, are involved in the same hooliganism. Storming into restricted regions of educational institutions and vandalising school property to influence the administrations are not new stories in our society either.

Organisations and government agencies, that feel threatened by the presence of miscreants, seek judicial help and request the court to impose section 144. Section 144 of the penal code of Pakistan clearly states that a group of more than four people cannot gather outside main operational centres of an organisation that has requested for security under the aforementioned clause. This clause is found to be futile in many cases.

The question is when we assault and hurt other people; do we not realise that they could also be victims of the same system? Why is it that our plight always supersedes everyone else’s woes? Isn’t it irrational to be aggressive towards people who not only cannot help you but are most probably looking for help themselves?

I am not against protests provided they adhere to the legal framework and do not harm anyone. Perhaps silent protests are far more effective than violent demonstrations because they do not invite retaliation. Candlelight vigils, circulation of brochures, signing petitions and wearing black bands, to shed light on an issue, are possibly the best ways to ‘be heard, not hurt’. Resorting to peaceful means to reach out to the silent majority can be essentially important and can bring more citizens on-board.

Hence, it is consequential to focus on evicting the problem collectively, and not the people or their property — the sooner we realize that, the better.

Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (5) Closed

dhiraj garg Apr 09, 2012 04:20pm
Nice Article. In my understanding, people become violent and destroy public as well as other properties because they have no attachment to them. they don't feel that it is their govt. they feel it is not their property, not meant for them. It is just serving the purpose of govt and not to the people at large. The protesters never destroy their own property. Moreover, Govt. also respond only when such violent protests take place. So it simply sends the signal- Only Power rules. Just show that you have power, then only we will respect you. So such violent demonstration/ protests are just naked and shameless display of power and nothing else. If Govt./administration/ management starts responding to the problem the moment it is reported to them, such thing will not happen. Also, the main thing in any human activity and business is TRUST. thats why you normally take and work oral orders in normal and daily life. the moment that is breached, it is most difficult to prove even sincere efforts. So decision making authorities should prevent reaching to the point of breaking trust.
NASAH (USA) Apr 10, 2012 07:30am
A person who would not hurt a fly as an individual -- under the influence of a frenzied mob can change into a murderous barbaian - sometimes to his own utter surprise. It will take the emotional subcontinentals another 100 years to transform themselves into cool collected civilized protesters.
AHMET ABDULAZIZ Apr 14, 2012 10:45am
Pakistan has got a long long history of public protests. A very few of them can be termed as a civilised form of protest. The reason for having violent protests is that the general public usually come on the road and start being violent once they lose all their hopes to be heard. The irony of the situation is that both the general public and the politicians do know all this. This is how some political parties use the general public to achieve their personal goals. The general public thus remain at the same point, and do not see any serious step being taken to solve their problems. A chain of nasty protests thus continues and goes on and on. Let they be heard.
Abdur R. Talukder Apr 16, 2012 01:43pm
Thank you Ms. Faiza Mirza for your nice comment regarding the uprising here and there in the world. Let us remind the Newton's theory "Every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction". As far as the some Mid-Eastern countries political concern, the uprising is a clear depiction of his theory in the struggle of recovering the popular civil rights. The same kind of sentiment is running in our areas too. If we walk on right path, the generation will be on track too. Greediness, family interest and above all the foreign influences are forcing our poliicians to destabliize the peace in the country. Our politicians even don't care about a nature of a govt. is" by the people, of the people and for the people" This kind of monopoly creates frustration among the deceived civilians who in reality owns the country turns themselves to take aggressive action against the govt. that resulted the lawlessness in the country!
AHMET ABDULAZIZ Apr 21, 2012 10:06am
The induction of violence in mass protests, ultimately lead to totally unrelated and very dangerous results. The original point of tussle thus fades back into the background and remain alive, and unsettled, paving way for repetition of the same after sometime. The protestors must know that violence is not the answer to their problems.