Dissent: An Idea Distorted and a Right Stolen

Dissent as a right and as a duty has been reviewed more than ever these days. The article is not another read on dissent but about the hows and whys of the formation of a broken vision of dissent.

A peek into the news will tell us how dissent in a different form by different people is treated differently. Just like the varied forms of expression- art, humor, poetry, and performing arts, even protesting can be considered a right or a duty depending on the situation. While the Capitol protests were considered a ‘right’ (in both literal and constitutional sense), a comedian in India allegedly ‘attempting’ to crack a joke was charged citing that it was a form of violence intended to hurt the feelings of an interest group. Although when viewed from a point, both are just forms of dissent, why do rights and wrongs and constitutional rights and its absence exist when it comes to power and influence? Why is it that any act of dissent is unbearable in our nation, while utmost violence was treated with water and biscuits to the protesters in the U.S? The key to this question lies in the identification of the various types of dissent and their evolution with time. 

right to dissent
source: ISHR


Using paintings and cartoons as a way to bring color to one’s thoughts has been a very popular form of dissent. Cartoons, as we see daily in the newspapers, are the lightest pictorial representation of issues that can hit the target in one shot. Many popular cartoons and paintings that led to controversies come from the best and bravest of artists. The DU Wall of Democracy is one among many such places where artists can show the power of a few strokes that can effortlessly convey more than a few issues that prevail in our society. (Read also:  Political Art and Dissent: A Sea of Controversy )

dissent comic
Cartoon by Michael de Adder  (source: imediaethics)

Humor and Music

Music and humor are two things that exist at two poles when it comes to dissent. However, these are also the two forms of dissent that have gone through a lot of changes. Music as a medium of dissent and the nuances of stand up as a form of expression is something that not only comes with political issues but is also a famous way to tackle the societal constructs on the underprivileged. Although joking about pain is cruelty, it was a piece of content that people could relate to and would clap to, just like songs about struggles, heartbreaks, and empowerment. Indians are very rich in both stand-up comics and musicians and our taste in them is quite appreciable. Comedian Kenneth Sebastian once said in one of his shows that he was scared to crack political jokes because he loved his family! Although that in itself was meant to be a joke, isn’t it very apt in today’s scenario and a very powerful statement about a comedian’s misery?  


There is no need to stress the fact that words form the essence of expression of any kind. Poetry, speeches, and slogans are popular ways of a revolution that was recently brought to the mainstream, through the presence of social media. Tweets that brought microblogging into the stream of social networking and communication, have now been part of pieces of evidence and controversies. This solely tells us how much we have come forward in terms of usage of words to express one’s ideas with concrete public support. As talks still go around regarding exercising free speech rights of a citizen, we must realize that the right to dissent goes into question in most cases. 


Well, evidently, in recent years, protests have been the only major way of exercising the right to dissent and the right to freedom of expression. This forms the essence of the distorted idea of dissent. This is because, in recent times, protests have gone beyond limits as peace and violence became arch-nemesis forever. The Global Protest Tracker by the Carnegie Endowment brings out not-so-surprising statistics about the protests that every citizen must read. 

source: Wall Street Journal

While protests remain one of the most effective tools of mass expression, it takes a new form that spreads fear and violence as it forgets that the target is to fight and earn the resolution they deserve and not to bring destruction to the institution and people they oppose. Adding a considerable amount of heat into space, are the institutions of democracy that, under the veil of justice and peace, harbors fear in the minds of people by preventing expression in the name of insult to its existence. This has been the case of late. However, if we track down protests and other forms of dissent, we can cite evidence of the successful establishment of democracy, where the idea of dissent is preserved with both sides carrying out their rights and duties rationally. 

Dissent is what rescues democracy from a quiet death behind closed doors.

–       Lewis H Lapham 

Why would we still be hypocrites in favor of someone, or worse, to keep ourselves alive? It is very essential to keep reminding oneself that whenever dissent is disrupted, trust in the institutions and bravery in our hearts keep dying over time. It has been spoken about incessantly, but it will never be enough! The fact that everything boils down to the heavyweights of democracy and the right to dissent is itself the issue. Ultimately, the success of dissent and democracy over power and politics lies in the realization that words, actions, and thoughts spoken out with bravery is the need of the hour. 

Feature Image Credits: The Conversation 

Vaishnavi Varier