In the 1960s, America was on boil. Everyone was protesting against some thing or the other. They were fighting for civil rights. That yielded huge dividends. There were also a lot of assassinations, though: US president John F Kennedy and his brother Robert, who was a presidential candidate; prominent leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
There was the anti-war movement. The subsequent Vietnam War did lead to a lot of people crying out about the futility of war. There were rallies in support of feminism. Environmentalism became the in thing. There was also the gay liberation movement.
That set the tone for politics and widespread changes in America from the 1970s onwards.
In the 1970s, a student agitation against the Chimanbhai Patel government in Gujarat had such far-reaching ramifications that wouldn’t have been imagined at that time. It soon became a national movement under the umbrella of Jayaprakash Narayan.
Emergency was imposed and for the first time the Congress lost power at the Centre. After that the Congress started losing states one by one and it remains totally shut out in a handful of states till this very day.
In 2010, the Arab Spring began, that had a domino effect and toppled dictators, some which had been ruling for decades.
In a way, a new protest movement was launched in 2010 in India too.
In December, thousands of people protested the 2G scam at the Ramlila Grounds. That did not prove to be an isolated incident and the protests only gained more strength.
While the social networks have always been abuzz with activity, people started coming out on the streets in big numbers in 2011. It was mastermind Arvind Kejriwal who first realized how big it was going to be and Baba Ramdev was soon in the limelight.
After Ramdev evaded arrest and it was alleged that he was in secret talks with the government, he faded away and activist Anna Hazare took centre-stage. His August Kranti movement captured the nation’s imagination and corruption became the burning issue of the day.
While that particular movement fizzled out by the end of the year, Kejriwal kept the issue of corruption alive in 2012.
There were also other novel protests in the year like those who sat in water all day to protest against dams and there was also the Kodankulam Nuclear Power Plant agitation that saw thousands of people protest for months on end.
Now exactly two years after December 2010, another spontaneous large-scale movement has erupted. This time it was in response to the horrific gang-rape that took place in a moving bus in New Delhi.
People came out all over the country and protested against the general treatment of women and their safety. People demanded strict and swift action against rapists and brought into focus the treatment of rape victims by policemen and delays in the courts.
This is definitely a more intense and emotive agitation than the one against corruption. There is a greater amount of anger and the people are demanding immediate action and more accountability by politicians.
Of course, the government reaction has been predictable. There was brutal police action against Ramdev’s supporters at the Ramlila Grounds last year. Hazare himself was arrested. The dreaded Section 66A was used to intimidate online citizens who dared criticize the government.
The same thing happened in New Delhi. Police used water cannons, lobbed teargas shells and resorted to lathicharged even when there was a peaceful demonstrations going on. It was only after that that the agitation went out of hand and maybe some lumpen elements joined in.
But the move backfired. The protestors took the police head-on. A furious girl broke the security of Raisina Hill and had to be carried off. Other girls went under buses that had come to take them away, thereby checking their progress.
Elsewhere people bravely stood in front of water cannons even at the risk of injuring them severely. Boys, girls, mothers… the crowd consisted of all kinds of people, some who were even crying.
Clearly this is one issue that is not going to go away in a hurry.
General elections are less than 16 months away and things are going to get hotter.
This is just the beginning.
There are many critics who find this a leaderless and practically goal-less agitation which they say will end up nowhere. But they are wrong. All great revolutions begin in exactly this manner.
Before 2011, people had taken issues like corruption and crimes against for granted. Now they have not. That is the crucial first step.
There are widespread protests, demands and discussions and that is the way forward. People are hoping for widespread changes and now there should be no looking back.
Hazare says he will renew his agitation before the 2014 elections.
Kejriwal is trying to take on the system in his own way.
And the people have already started venting out their anger in the streets and are not likely to be quieted in a hurry!
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