One group: burning tyres, pieces of wood, cardboard—debris really—in protest against the conditions of roads that are impassable or collapsing; or the absence of water via taps or trucks; or maybe it’s a bridge gone, cutting them off; or a fallen tree yet to be cleared; or a downed electricity pole; or clogged drains and watercourses that bring floodwaters where they shouldn’t be.
Officialdom has not responded to their plights, and so, according to their playbook, the next step is to take to the streets. Call up media houses, maybe a rhythm section, and get ready to rumble.
For the most part, that is the level of organisation. What happens after is largely improvised. Camera crews arrive, and a spokesperson might be hastily selected, and under a blazing sun, glistening bodies air their grievances.
If they make enough of a commotion, law enforcers will arrive. If there are many protesters, they would likely call for back-ups. But if the law enforcers see a substantial enough media presence, then maybe the commissioner of police himself might turn up; such is the power of the camera. And then, who knows what angle might make the news later?
We have seen these scenes so often that they have almost become standard components of a newscast.
And what are these people asking for? Basic human rights. The right to have their concerns addressed. We know that every need will not be met, but what makes people clamour on the streets is the feeling of being ignored, dismissed.
At a far distance, another group is staging protests. Its form and construction is entirely different. Deftly organised via social media, citizens will gather at prominent locations. Articulate and philosophical signs replace burning debris as the method of communication. Photographs, banners and posters make up the armoury.
This past week, a raw nerve was violently slashed by the brutal murder of yet another woman. After days of speculation and hope that she would miraculously emerge, there had to be a collective scream of anguish.
It is not the first time that people have taken to the streets and held candlelight vigils and created public shrines to the fallen. These highly organised demonstrations are now the way of the world; an alternative playbook. In the last week alone, there have been record numbers of gatherings across the country.
Whatever the approach, people are forming collectives to publicly speak their minds. This is a kind of community that is not formed out of geographical proximity, but out of a shared sense of anguish and a feeling that something has to be done.
They are two different types of protests, but they share something profound. People are raising their voices to demand change.
To demand that everyone who has accepted our permission to make decisions—institutions, public services, legislators, politicians and priests—to demand that they listen to their upraised voices. Everyone is simply asking for their basic rights to be respected.
In this time of emotional turmoil, when outrage is high and fear propels us towards the primal instinct for revenge, it is understandable that some of the suggestions are gut reactions. As unacceptable as it is, one has to consider that even the law enforcers were overcome by raw emotion when they crossed all kinds of lines with the suspects in their custody.
Yet, this cannot be allowed to be swept aside because it is one of the alarming features of a tyrannical and oppressive society.
We have to think past the cosmetic solutions. I agree with Raffique Shah when he says that PH drivers are not the problem. Those who would commit evil acts come under various guises.
I would even hazard a guess that many of the perpetrators of violence against women—in all its nuanced forms—are members of what we would call ‘respectable society’, and would stand on public platforms and denounce the very sleaziness and cruelty they practice.
I do not think the death penalty is a deterrent, nor do I believe that its barbaric quality can be a solution.
One of my abiding role models was Angela Cropper, who died in 2012. Even after her husband, her sister and her mother were brutally murdered in 2001, she remained steadfastly opposed to the death penalty. It is hard when one feels so much anger to hold fast to principles.
There are times when we feel we have to stand up and shout above the politics to let our feelings be heard. The mass responses to the death of Andrea Bharatt have focused ire on various public figures and entities.
We know that enacting legislation is no use if it is not enforced. But who are the enforcers? Do they not come from our midst?
Now that thousands have stood up to say we’ve had enough, we, the thousands, might want to examine our personal roles in creating the conditions that exist. If this is a place where anything goes, how did it get to be so?
It might seem irrelevant, but it comes down to years of corruption, the inequities in our systems, the willingness to turn blind eyes, even littering and hogging the roads… it is an insidious accumulation.
What is really at the root of what we call deviant behaviours?
Now that we’ve had it up to here, it’s a good time to reflect.