Protest Culture


As people come out on the streets every day to protest the draconian and unconstitutional laws of the government, an ode to the women who are the centre of revolution in our city.

The air is different here, Shaheen Bagh’s corners and roads echo with the cries of azadi and inquilab zindabad. A walk through Shaheen Bagh shows many things, toddlers and small children chanting azadi, a mother sitting who wants her baby’s first word to be azadi, songs of resistance playing over the speaker. With dissent and revolution in the air, one question becomes evident. How did this start and what is the significance?

The indefinite sit-in began the day after the Delhi Police entered Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and brutally unleashed violence on peacefully protesting students, even attacking those who were just in their hostels or the Central Library. What began as 10-15 women sitting and indefinitely protesting against the unconstitutional and Islamophobic CAA-NRC-NPR has now catalysed into a much larger protest site. The entire street has become a space for dissent in many forms, with speakers, singers, and artists all doing everything, a roadside library for people to study and read in, medical have all come up to help these brave women . Shaheen Bagh has also served as a model for many other similar indefinite sit-in protests, all led by brave women who have left everything behind to protest against fascism. Seelampur Jaffrabad, Inderlok Metro Station, Khureji, Hauz Rani, Ghantaghar in Lucknow and many other similar protest sights coming up all over the country to protest. 

The women of Shaheen Bagh and other such protests have come to symbolise so much in these dark times. In a country where gender roles and stereotypes have a large and pervasive role, Shaheen Bagh also stands a symbol fighting these unjust stereotypes. These stereotypes have been seen in several protests, an example being the Anti-CAA rally held in Lucknow on the 19th of December, where women were told to stand away from the main protesting crowd, and not allowed to go into the centre of the protest by their male counterparts and were told that “beech mai mat aaye, ye safe nahi hai” ( don’t come in between, it’s not safe).

The women of Shaheen Bagh and women throughout history, along with fighting the injustices of the time have smashed the patriarchal stereotypes which depict women as frail and weak. The strength shown by these women is an inspiration for all those who are protesting and dissenting against the Government and its policies. In these times of brutality and suppression, these women have done the bravest thing they could do, stand up and speak, and the entire country is listening.


Feature Image Credits: Manav Ahuja and Jassman for DU Beat

Prabhanu Kumar Das

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India has had an illustrious history of protests. Be it the pre-independence times or the post. But nearly every time, these protests are accused of being mere activities of political agendas and activities.

Whenever we see something going wrong in the social or political sphere in the nation, we take to the streets. Be it the recent Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) agitations or The Bihar Movementof 1974, the students along with political leaders wanted the nation to change. But both these agitations till some extent had a political flavour within them. The Leftist parties for the latter and Jana Sangh(Later Bhartiya Janata Party) for the post, and it is these political ideologies that have made many of these protests a victim of political rivalries, thereby weakening their credibility. Though politics in protests has helped protests to become effective but this effectiveness always comes with a price.

Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, writers of the book Inventing the Future: Post capitalism and a World without Work, question the power of marches, protests, and other acts of what they call folk politics.

They said, “These methods are more habit than solution. Protest is too fleeting. It ignores the structural nature of problems in a modern world. The folk-political injunction is to reduce complexity down to a human scale.”

This impulse promotes authenticity-mongering, reasoning through individual stories (also a journalistic tic), and a general inability to think systemically about change.

Take the example of the DTC bus burning near Jamia Millia Islamia. Every time the protestors want to raise a valid critical point over the CAA and NRC legislation, they are shut out by the pro-legislation groups on this violent act. Though the protestors claim that they weren’t a part of the act which was later proved to be true but their credibility was compromised using fake news and propaganda.

Violence has always been part of the political process. Politics does not merely encompass the actions of Legislative assemblies, political parties, electoral contests and other formal trappings of a modern Government. Protest activities of one form or another, efforts to dramatize grievances in a fashion that will attract attention, and ultimately the destruction or threatened destruction of life and property appear as expressions of political grievances even in stable consensual societies like India.

In one sense, to speak of violence in the political process to speak of the political process itself; the two are inseparable. The ultima ratio of political action is force. Political activity below threshold of force is normally carried on with the knowledge that an issue maybe escalated into overt violence if a party feels sufficiently aggrieved. So be it Hindutva for the Bhartiya Janata Party, the dynastic politics for the Congress or the worker and trade union politics for the Left parties.

Medha Patkar, an environmental activist, who was a leading figure in Narmada Bachao Andolan, was able to stall the Narmada Dam project. She was successful as her lobbying made the World Bank withdraw its funding from the project. Still the project was completed with the help of public funding and the dam stands tall on the Narmada River. This tells us that protesting is a right of citizens of a democratic nation but protesting responsibly is also a duty.

We protestors have to be rational in our demands or otherwise protests get intermixed with politics. Like the students’ union protested against the change of names of Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University into Aligarh University and Banaras University in the 1970s. Just think about the level of communal harmony this simple name change could have done.

If we look at the protests today as an exercise in public awareness, they appear to have had mixed success at best. Their messages are mangled by an unsympathetic media smitten by images of property destruction—assuming that the media even acknowledges a form of contention that has become increasingly repetitive and boring. Therefore we should always protest whenever we want to see change but always be responsible and rock hard on our goals.

As in recent times many student politicians have started protesting, not for student problems but for popularity, which is not only catastrophic now but also in the future.

One of my close friends told me that hearing about JNU students protesting has become so common that now people don’t even care. Though I have my own interpretations but still I can’t help but agree with him on a great extent.


Feature Image Credits:The New Yorker


Aniket Singh Chauhan

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Students’ protests are often categorised as violent, disruptive, misdirected, politically motivated, and even ‘anti-national’. Let’s try to dissect why such co-relations and myths burn several minds.

Early in the morning of 19th December, I went to my college in South Delhi. The journey was tattered with hints of the ongoing unrest. While interchanging the metro at Rajiv Chowk, I heard the announcement that Vishwavidyalaya and Chandni Chowk Metro Stations have been closed off, moments later Twitter pinged with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation notification of three more metro stations being closed on Magenta line due to security reasons. An hour later, after I had safely reached my destination, my phone rang. My mother on the other side of the phone, panic-striken, was rapidly asking about my whereabouts and safety protocols, asking for my friend’s number, saying, “Bache shaitaani kar rahe hain sadko par.”  

This anecdote symbolises all that is wrong with inherent instincts against the idea of students on the street. It portrays the relationship between a wide protest and a household, where the unconditionally loving parents want their kids safe, away from political drama, and locked up in the world of academic drudgery. And hence, it also justifies denouncing the students who do come on the streets, as misdirected, fed false information, and politically provoked.

However, this utter belief of students just joining protest for fun and not knowing about the cause also comes from a place of highly charged political propaganda prevailing around the protest culture. The idea of students partaking in ‘anti-national’ sloganeering, provoking riots, vandalising public property, and enabling communal tensions is aggravated by large political bodies propagating these very ideas through doctored videos and cultural machinery of using have-have nots language. This might be the reason why the police didn’t deter from entering and brutally assaulting students in Jamia Millia Islamia campus, assuming the favoured and natured stance that it is intrinsic of student protestors to indulge in unlawful practices. The same was the reason cited by the many supporters of Delhi Police who reduced the act of violence as cautionary measure.

However, the fact is that it takes money and muscle power to turn any protests violent, which can be propagated by either sides of the coin to sustain their ideas. It is categorically and fundamentally difficult to believe that any student protestor, with minimal resource could indulge in violence. Hence, the onus of violent protests remains onto the large-dynamic parties with easy access and motives. Despite this, the blame comes onto the educated, politically and socially aware students, as they are the ones who become pawns in the game. Therefore, when students of Jawaharlal Nehru University came on the streets a few weeks ago, the whole-wide world went batshit crazy, not focusing on the facts, but just that students are yet-again raising their voices.

This then motivates suppression of voice, paranoid, and resilience. The State, to avoid the aforementioned ‘damage of public property and security reasons’, suppress protests that might cause socio-political unrest. Suspension of metro-internet services, denying protest-permits hours before protest, and detaining protesters even before march had begun were the means to achieve disbandment of the 19th December protest. While, the students on the other hand, imagining the worst, had started sharing legal aid contacts and ‘steps-to-follow-if-you-are-detained’ stories for awareness, signifying the instinctual fear associated with going to protests. The paranoia of being misheard, misrepresented, and misused to incite communal or social fire also remains with texts of ‘How-to-identify-miscreants-in-the-crowd’ also being circulated rigorously, to ensure that their peaceful protest for a cause doesn’t become a stepping stone for any forms of misheard communal hatred and violence.

It is in instinctually wrong for students or their parents to be scared of protests. It is not even about Freedom of Speech, but rather the idea of a Democratic Republic where safe and peaceful protests don’t translate into students’ childishness or lack of political awareness but rather, are heard as an appeal of Justice, Rights, and Liberty. 

Despite constantly hoping for protests to be perceived as perpetually propelling positivity, the harsh reality is that asking for any form of ‘aazadi’ and ‘freedom’ is going to be a politically charged statement and not a critique of democracy, and therefore, the students on the streets are always going to be ‘shaitaan’ and ‘troublemakers’ and not student leaders fighting for themselves. 

Featured Image Credits: The Wire

Sakshi Arora

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An account of a widespread protest against the parliamentary Trans Bill 2018 which would have a negative impact on the transgender community if passed.

Amidst posters and hoardings criticising the controversial Trans Bill, a corner of Jantar Mantar was filled with a crowd, a crowd questioning parliamentary amendments and personal stereotypes. They were the trans-people from all over the country, proud of their identity and raging at the proposal of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill. And not only members of the transgender community, college students, activist, laypersons also joined the procession. Some of the provisions of this Bill which are cited as “biased” and “unfair” are that members of the transgender community would be subjected to a screening committee to have their gender assessed and it also reduces the punishment of convicts in sexual crimes against them, among other things. South India Transgender Federation had a major presence in the protest but activists from other states like Manipur, Maharashtra, and Haryana were also present.

Jatin, an alumnus of the University of Delhi says, “As a theatre actor, I have often worked on productions that revolve around queer issues, but after some point, you realise that theatre is just talking. By coming here, I am trying to show the little support that I can from my own side. It’s important to be physically present for the protests about which you preach via your art form.” Jatin’s point gets clearer in the face of a need for students to get educated and know more about the issues that ostracised groups face in their city, in their country. “The problem lies in the education. It’s like we are brought up to mock transgender people or just look at them as if they’re criminals even if they are just earning their living”, another college student remarked.

Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’ Brien also attended the protest and used it as an opportunity to show his support for the cause, while also pushing for the political agenda of his party. Image Credits: Shaurya Thapa
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’ Brien also attended the protest and used it as an opportunity to show his support for the cause, while also pushing for the political agenda of his party.
Image Credits: Shaurya Thapa

Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’ Brien highlighted how the Mamta Bannerjee government in Bengal is working towards the betterment of trans persons and guaranteed that this controversial Bill would definitely not be passed at Rajya Sabha (receiving several cheers). His monologue ended with “Do hazaar unees, BJP finish!” (BJP’s rule over in 2019!).

Politics aside, this protest represented a struggle for personal rights. Radhika Naik from Tamil Nadu questioned how the government can impose a Bill on determining trans identity without consulting transgender people. “The police beats us if we beg and sometimes for just wandering. Tell me isn’t this harassment? And if someone really harms us, how can we even go to the police? We live in troubled times. The government gives us a ration card and voter ID card but that’s just equality for the namesake. You give us cards but what about our basic rights, what about our roti (food), kapda (clothing), and makaan (shelter),?” Radhika said on an emotional note. “More than the government’s perspective, it’s the people’s perspective that matters and this will ultimately influence the government,” Selvi Naik, Radhika’s friend added.

The protesters claim that the Bill has been made without any community consultation, lacks accountability measures, and doesn’t have provisions for reservation. Image Credits: Shaurya Singh Thapa

Radha Chatterjee from West Bengal complained about how the government can’t as much as make separate seats or washrooms for the third gender, leave alone other facilities. Still, on an optimistic note, Radha added how the revolution will live on and these protests will turn nationwide. “They’ll call us chutiyas, but if you think of us as chutiyas then let us be chutiyas! We will still fight. You see even though we have faced atrocities, we are still surviving. My guru survives as a trans, I have survived as a trans since a teen, and we all will live on no matter what,” this statement probably captures the optimism that everyone felt in this protest.

On a pavement, photographs from the ongoing protest were exhibited and sold by a middle-aged photographer who has been covering sit-ins, campaigns, and dharnas in Delhi for quite some time (even if he himself didn’t seem to show that much of interest in the movement). "I have been covering protests around Jantar Mantar for the past 15 years. I participated in the 2012 protests about the Nirbhaya rape case, but all other protests feel like a routine and a business opportunity," he added honestly as people bought their pictures. Image Credits: Shaurya Singh Thapa
On a pavement, photographs from the ongoing protest were exhibited and sold by a middle-aged photographer who has been covering sit-ins, campaigns, and dharnas in Delhi for quite some time (even if he himself didn’t seem to show that much of interest in the movement). “I have been covering protests around Jantar Mantar for the past 15 years. I participated in the 2012 protests about the Nirbhaya rape case, but all other protests feel like a routine and business opportunity,” he added honestly as people bought their pictures.
Image Credits: Shaurya Singh Thapa

After shouting slogans and singing rebel songs, the mood turned light as several drum players arrived at the scene. And for a brief moment, many joined from the crowd dancing merrily on the beats of the drums, melting the anger into a celebration of collective struggle and hope for a better future.

Feature Image Credits: Shaurya Singh Thapa for DU Beat.

Shaurya Singh Thapa
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Most people view the constant protests that go on in the University of Delhi as political gimmicks. And while most of these protests may be politically motivated, they teach us an important life lesson on how to speak our mind and raise our voice fearlessly and without apprehension.

A lot of students view the constant protests that go on in the University of Delhi (DU) as a hassle. I’ve seen friends and acquaintances describe them as a politically motivated menace. Some complaint about the negative impact they have on academics while others simply don’t find the reasons behind them “legitimate” enough. Despite the visible inconveniences that protests seem to bring along, they are still an extremely powerful tool to express outrage and anger.

The word protest literally means a statement or action expressing disapproval or objection to something. Definitions aside, for each one of us, the word protest holds a different significance. To some, it may evoke memories of high school history textbooks and their innumerable chapters on the Indian National Movement. For others, it may act as a reminder of the India Against Corruption Movement or the Jawaharlal Nehru University sedition controversy. And while to most of us, the image synchronized slogans and dharnas comes to mind when thinking of protests; its scope isn’t limited to them. Nor is their sphere of influence is limited to the lives of college students and union workers. The right to protest peacefully is one of the most powerful tools in our hands. It is a dignified way to express anger and demand justice. It is easy to be dismissive about protests, call them frivolous, unnecessary and pointless but the truth is this is exactly what makes it so important. Just because an issue seems irrelevant and not worthy outrage to us does not necessarily mean that other lives are not negatively impacted by it. Majoritarian opinion and views are difficult to challenge and defy. Propaganda, business ties with major media outlets and a charismatic leader who claims to not be a part of the system are ways with which oppressive governments slowly seize control. Falling for this ideology is especially tempting when those who oppose it are labelled as “snowflakes” or “anti-nationals”. It is at such times that the culture of protest becomes crucial in ensuring that a country remains democratic. The right to sit down and speak one’s mind is extremely powerful.

This culture of protest that disrupts lessons, activities and everyday routine to raise seemingly “frivolous” issues should be our choice of weapon. Because while the definition of frivolous can be easily fixed and put into a dictionary, it’s interpretation in everyday life cannot be. What may appear to be a frivolous issue to one may be a life-altering issue for another; for example- the LGBTQ rights. Maybe a fee hike of Rupees 5,000 does not bother you but for someone else, it might be a huge inconvenience. This culture of protest does not just teach us the dynamics and logistics of organising and participating in a protest, it teaches us the principle behind it, its social significance. The idea that anything that is oppressive, unfair, biased, disrespectful, or discriminating should be actively but peacefully fought against is a beautiful one. It teaches us to challenge status quo, to not be afraid to ruffle some feathers, to ask uncomfortable question and demand that they are answered. It teaches us to use our voice and speak our mind.

We are a country that secured its freedom under the leadership of a short, skinny man who wore the homespun loincloth. We owe the foundation of our state to Satyagraha and peaceful protests. Therefore, it is only appropriate that a culture of protest in one of India’s premier institutions should be celebrated, encouraged, and actively sheltered and protected.


Feature Image Credits: DNA India

Kinjal Pandey

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A true democracy is where everyone is equal. The one who sits on the chair and the one who stands below have equal rights and powers. This equality comes when everyone has the right to question those in power. This makes the authority accountable to people and also allows those who don’t hold any position of power demand the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution. In the Indian scenario, where questioning elders is deemed as disrespect, a majority of the country never learns this art of critical thinking which is essential for the soul of every democracy to survive on.

The University of Delhi (DU) is considered as one of the most politically active campuses in the country. Every other day, you can find a protest, gathering or a rally for various reasons in its north campus. This protest culture of the University offers a lot to learn from the students. These protests not only gather support for various demands but also become an important chapter in your learning process. It teaches you how to question authority and how to register dissent in person or as a community. This lesson further helps you to speak your mind and share your thoughts without any fear of authority.  Regardless of the immediate goal at hand, be it high hostel fees or poor infrastructure, it trains you to be proactive against larger issues throughout your life.

These protests also instil in you the courage to fight and the resilience to survive opposition from systemic forces. Many a time, people face oppression because the victim either lacks the courage or the knowledge required to speak up. This courage won’t just help you grow as a leader but also helps you in articulating your opinions on public platforms. Be it in corporate boardrooms or political meetings, courageous leaders are the need of the hour today. Given the history of the University, some student protesters such as Arun Jaitley and Shashi Tharoor have grown up to become senior politicians in the country. The ability to stand up for what you believe in determines your position in the society.

Be it the case of adhocism of teachers, a fake encounter in a Naxalite area or the plight of Syrian refugees, every major injustice, be it local or global is highlighted through protests in the University.

Today, as incumbent governments across countries are cracking down on dissent and vilifying the protest culture as ‘anti-national’, the time requires you to learn how to protest more than ever before. The next time you see a protest or find an invitation regarding something you feel strongly about, make it a point to participate. By staying silent or avoiding protests you are killing someone who is most important to your future, the leader inside you.


Srivedant Kar

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