Protests have been an imperative aspect of Nepal as it has resulted in phenomenal structural shifts in the political landscape – overthrowing of monarchs and establishment of democracy, or recognition of basic rights of marginalized groups. Apart from the big political changes, several protests have also successfully confronted economic policies and legislation that failed to adequately prioritize economic freedom and restricted fundamentals like freedom of choice and speech. While at that, Nepal has also experienced more violent mass movements like the maoist insurgency that not only took thousands of lives but also pushed back or at least delayed Nepal’s development by almost a decade.
Protests are important. Generally speaking, protests are the display of public disagreement which is the most essential element in democracy since the voice of multitudes are heard. It is civic duty to speak against the unjust, thereby protests encourage discussions, debates and make people question their biases which eventually brings reforms and assists the government in creating a better society. It is thus established that it is not prudent to suppress protests. But, it is important to understand the different aspects of protests, for like many other things, protests too have several implications in social, economic, as well as political context of a country.
Firstly, why do people protest?
The incentive to protest for individuals must be huge. An individual has several obligations in life, such as duty to employer and family to ensure they have their needs fulfilled. However, if the individual chooses to participate in a protest leaving his/her obligations behind, it implies that the opportunity cost of addressing the issue in expectation of reform is higher than that of their other responsibilities. Simply put, the outcome of protest is the most important for the individual when compared to other things in his/her life. For instance, despite the looming threat of COVID-19 contamination, ‘enough is enough’ campaigners felt assembling at Baluwatar as extremely important to bring the attention of government towards addressing issues that the campaigners thought were being neglected.
What are the implications of protest?
Protest is an emotional matter. There is generally anger among individuals against the given injustice which can easily take a violent turn. The recent incident where protesters attacked the government office in Siraha had a child and civilians critically injured as protesters were seeking attention against corruption. There is no moral quandary in debate for abusing civilians during protests yet these unprincipled incidents keep on happening. On a similar note, the strike and “chakka-jaam” often restricts people from their work, laborers can’t earn their wage, industries can’t produce goods and a day’s income gets postponed. Nepal has also experienced the summoning of farmers for the purpose of protest, ceasing a day of their farmwork. And when the protests are inclined towards self serving political motives, where politicians bicker for power and post, civilians don’t even get to exercise the benefits of such protests. Consequently, the cost borne by civilians often prevails over the welfare created by a given protest.
Is there an alternative?
Creative protests can minimize the cost and augment the benefits. We have witnessed few creative protests in Nepal as well like flash mob done to pressurize government for stricter laws against rape and sexual misconducts. Similarly, when the government increased tax rates on imported books, people protested by holding book discussions and poem recitations in Patan. These kinds of protests highlight the unjust and without a doubt, create discussions and debates, whilst ensuring minimal chances of the demonstration being violent. If done right, these protests do not create overcrowding and traffic jams, neither hurt the civilians who struggle earning their day, and simply contribute to making more people aware of the issues and pressurize authorities to address the same.
So it is very important to address that a protest is not successful because of a bigger crowd and tragic instances of violence being used as a bargaining chip but because it highlights and redirects attention towards injustice. Our nation has delved enough in brutal mass movements and protests that lingered around far too long destroying progress and opportunities for everyone. So we cannot afford any recurrence of history yet again. Protest is a powerful process and no authority can take hold of that from democracy. It can change people’s minds and eventually society so we all should willingly choose a way to protest with least cost and most welfare associated with every individual.