Posted by: Vikram | February 3, 2011

Why do they not happen in India ?

After all, our government is just as (or maybe even more) corrupt. Our police can be just as cruel. Our people are much poorer1. All the conditions seem to be ripe for Indians to rise up and revolt. But they dont. I cant remember a single instance in my lifetime where Indians have demanded the ouster of their government. I’ve seen protests aimed at certain religions, states and castes. But I havent really seen an anti-government demonstration of the kind happening in Egypt. Why ?

Some say it’s just a matter of time; India will rise soon in a cauldron of protest against rampant corruption, inflation and unemployment. But Indians have been poor, subject to poor governance and sporadically ill treated by the police for a while. So why have they protested against every possible thing except the government directly ?

Its not as if Indians have never protested against a ruling government in the Republican era. The actually did so in great force and very successfully during the Emergency of 1975-1977. Hundreds of thousands gathered in Delhi, Bihar and other parts of India to challenge Indira Gandhi’s rule by decree. Jayprakash Narayan’s call for ‘Sampoorna Kranti’ (सम्पूर्ण क्रांती) electrified the restless youth. Indeed, it is thanks to the stiff opposition faced by Indira Gandhi in the wake of the Emergency and her consequent rejection by the Indian public that we remained democratic.

The principle of elected government ensures to a great extent that Indians do not have to rise in revolt to make themselves heard. And I feel there is another, more subtle factor at work, keeping Indians quiescent. It is the principal of incremental social revolution. The driver for this is not just democracy, but also liberty. The trigger for the Tunisian and Egyptian revolution was the sacrifice of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self immolation was motivated by police abuse,

Mostly, it was the type of petty bureaucratic tyranny that many in the region know all too well. Police would confiscate his scales and his produce, or fine him for running a stall without a permit. …. A policewoman confronted him on the way to market. She returned to take his scales from him, but Bouazizi refused to hand them over. They swore at each other, the policewoman slapped him and, with the help of her colleagues, forced him to the ground.

There was no outlet for Bouazizi’s rage, no free media to report the abuse, no freedom for the people of Sidi Bouzid to come together and protest the injustice one of their own faced.

This contrasted with a passage I had read in the book India’s Newspaper Revolution by Dr. Robin Jeffrey. Jeffrey wrote about his conversation with a policeman in Andhra,

“Newspapers”, he said, “have made the police’s job more difficult.” I asked why. “Once”, he said, “if one policeman went to a village, the people were afraid. Now, six may go to a village and people are not afraid. Newspapers have made them know that the police are not supposed to beat them.”

Democracy and liberty ensure incremental progress that bring people the dignity they aspire for. I am confident that in most states of India, the common people have grown stronger, become more aware and confident in the last sixty years.

However, there seems to be a worrying reversal in certain states like Chattisgarh and an uneasy stagnation in other regions, particularly the North East and Kashmir, where liberty is under siege. If there is anything we can learn from the events in Egypt it is that we need more democracy and more liberty, not less.

1: Egypt’s per capita income is about twice that of India.

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Responses

  1. Every nation or society lives in a pressure cooker kind of situation. The difference with India, i think, is it gives hundreds of safety valves to release the accumulated gas of resentment. Democracy and liberty are only one valve among those hundreds. Our social and religious life, which influences our polity, provide with more safety devices than any other factor. Other states with single languages,religions, ethnicity don’t have a tolerant polity cause they don’t have the first condition: a tolerant society, which doesn’t give them outlets to release their bitterness.
    People of India often complain that, we are too much of a liberal and tolerant society. We are too lax in all our affairs. May be that is our srength and saves us and lets us survive.

    • Welcome Laxman. I think such safety valves must be present even in Egypt. Egyptians seem to be quite religious and their family/social structure cant be too different from ours. I think democracy and liberty are absolutely critical, other factors might support stability, but in the long term those two are essential.

      • Vikram, there is no denying the fact that democracy and liberty are critical factors. Safety valves are present in Egypt and every country and society. I believe that.
        My point is, the foundation, i.e the social life, culture, your folk lores, your history, mythology are more important. They shape the views and thoughts of your populace, which gives strength to every facet of the national life, including the political structure.
        In India, i think, revolutions don’t happen, because people never looked up to an authority: like a government or even religious authority (It’s strictly has been very personal) to affect their communal life. Even when kings were all powerful, he was a very distant figure.
        You would agree that, Egypt does not have a multi religious, multi cultural life. They don’t have as tolerant society that we have.
        Every country has a social life, a religious life, a history, myth et al and would have democracy and liberty. Given these conditions, on the surface we can say that every country is same. But there are finer things within the national setup which makes one nation different from others. Those undefinable finer points make India different from Egypt or such other countries.

    • I wonder if Laxman is referring to the concept of Karma…acceptance of one’s fate, etc….Is that a safety valve? Or is it a grossly misunderstood concept?

      • Welcome Vikram, I dont know if the majority of Indians are really ready to accept karma as the reason for their fate anymore. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence for the country really being one of aspirations.

      • Vikram, I am not referring to the concept of Karma.
        The above reply to Vikram (The author of this post), i hope, may clarify my point.

  2. Could it also have anything to do with India’s (or for that matter South Asia’s) social set up?

    While the Republic I’m sure has done much, even from 1857-1942, there was no “revolt” that actually bought British India to a halt. The most fearsome (and in parts of North India it was very fearsome) was the Quite India movement which spun out of control because it was largely leaderless and there was a widespread belief that the Brits were going to lose the War/abandon India to the Japanese.

    • Hades, given that Indians had only seen monarchy till 1950, there was no reason for them to simply stand up against the Brits, they were just another set of monarchs in the eyes of the common people. The Congress had to first generate a nationalist sentiment in the eyes of the people and I guess that took time to develop. Also, in a country of scale as large as India a unified, concurrent movement would have taken time to develop.

      Incidentally, Egyptians have a history of revolution, they overthrew British colonial rule in 1919 long before we did, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_Revolution_of_1919

      • Well, till 1919, the Egyptians had also only seen monarchy, first under the Ottomans and then the Brits.

        Also, in a country of scale as large as India a unified, concurrent movement would have taken time to develop.

        “A unified, concurrent movement” yes would be a long shot but but that doesn’t explain why there were no intense, localised revolts.

  3. Fair points, Vikram – especially on incremental democracy and liberty. Taking off from your example on the role of media in empowering people (against police injustice, as you mention), one may argue that while local and regional media is free / independent to some extent, one cannot say the same about the national level media. It may be impossible to sustain a revolution without the active support of national scale media, especially in a country as large as India.
    Also, up until yesterday I believe, the Egyptian military was also involved in the protests, along with the people. Maybe that helped germinate the protests into this large-scale uprising. I am not sure if this can happen in desh…

    • I would agree that the national media is hostage to special interests, but I feel that the spread of the internet can challenge those, especially in urban areas. Somebody really has to do some research and find out how people in the 20-35 group get their information.

      To be fair, the only non-internet media in Egypt were completely under the control of the government. It would really be interesting to read how information was propagated by the protesters during this revolution. But yes, doing something similar all over India would be a considerable challenge without national media support.

      I dont believe the army was involved in the protests, it simply stood by and acted neutral at first. I think the scale of the protests convinced it to take the benign stand it did.

  4. I have to add a different lens to this discussion – while facing tough odds and often disadvantaged, the ‘relatively few’ successes within Indian structures of people working hard and changing their life – (someone’s uncles’ cousin studied hard got into a uni did something, or someone moved to city started some business etc) provides a small realm of motivation and the realization of the ability to fight against the odds.

    From what I understand in Tunisia/Egypt the complete lack/disparity of opportunities for economic success was the barrier that incited the behavior – while a university graduate who is from a underprivileged background in India is severely disadvantaged/faced hardship to get there, with some effort, he/she can find some sort of gainful employment which from all I’ve read and seen about the revolution, was absent in the countries where the revolts take place.

    Still does not in any way condone the establishment in India for not acting, but in some way, allowing the “freedom” for individuals to succeed and prosper even if not in cahoots with the leadership is a small victory?
    – I am questioning this, but it’s a thought.

    Thanks for being a vigilant eye and providing some insightful comments Vikram

  5. Our government is not corrupt, many people who are part of it are, thats why we have democracy and elections to weed out the useless junk. Dont compare India and Egypt and wish for riots just because you cant solve anything, I dont see you going to india and working grass roots joining politics ( actually u r in the US trying to arbit shit) dont blame the politicians who are actually there. Sure u hear about the bad guys but u never hear of the good, you think they are none? there are only difference is that they dont blabber random shit because they have access to a computer and an internet connection

    • Calm down legatogod, there is a lot of Indian diaspora out there in every part of world. Vikram is trying to understand the social changes in India from US should not be discouraged. Only Indians don’t have an exclusive birthright to comment and solve the problems…

      And just because one have access to a computer and an internet connection, it doesn’t make one aware of the facts. These are only tools of learning.

  6. @ Shreenath: I absolutely agree. Although there are cases of nepotism and abuse, I think in general access to higher education (and hence economic mobility) in India is greater in India than some other countries. And the recent decades of economic growth have also helped in general, although they have made certain other regions of the country unstable.

    @ YD: 😀

  7. Here, people have learnt to participate and benefit from the misdoings of the Govt and its institutions! Take for instance the RTO Office and the various brokers around it. If not for the Govt’s misdoings, how can these people make money?? That’s why there is no revolt.

    Destination Infinity

  8. I can have many reasons for this revolution to be happening in Egypt not in India.

    The Arab world is marked by polarisation: between the elites and the masses, between town and country, between rich and poor. Development will not be possible as long as this polarisation exists. India has got huge buffer middle class that gives hope of rise to lower class and defuses the tension between elite and labour class.

    1- Even when people are looted of their national wealth, people believe that one of their own (caste, region or nation) is taking it back home. Like the cases of A Raja, Mayawati or Mulayam Singh has misused the power to fill their own pockets but that has been the tradition of all parties (especially Congress) in the past.

    2-And with the free voice given to raise the issue, everybody thinks justice can be delayed not denied. Leave the Tribal people, they have been really denied any stake at ground level for benefits of corporates.

    3-We don’t have history of revolution also. The non cooperative movements and hartals have helped us till now to get the required quota or at least public attention.

    4- The instruments like PIL, RTI, positive discrimination policy like reservations for SC, ST & OBC and power de-centralization scheme like Panchayats are huge change happening in India.

    • yayaver, I agree with point 1 to a great extent. A clear example is the worship of Mayawati’s wealth by Dalits. In a society where the individual’s self esteem is not a given, the self confidence of entire communities become linked to individual and all their excesses are forgiven.

      Agree with 2 as well. I would think that justice is done in India in a majority of cases. As for the tribal people, many are already rebelling or are on the verge of rebellion.

      Not so sure about 3. There were frequent revolts during both the Mughal and British era.

      Agree with 4, basically tools and drivers of incremental social revolution.

      • In context to the 3rd point, the frequent revolts against British and Moughal were uprising by local landlords or kings for the sake of power. We didn’t have big scale armed revolution after mutiny of 1857. With the coming of educated class with the growth of cities and stature of feudalism diminished in shaping armed struggle for making demands. And there are lot of protests till 90’s who had bend the government to change its policy. It’s during recent 10 years that corporates are beating their ways through power corridors of Delhi.

  9. The cultural factors also push for changes in Egypt.

    The people’s uprising in Tunisia, Egypt or Yemen is not just about the state of the economy, but also about civil rights and dignity. The Arab regimes have exploited ‘threat of terrorism’ fears and blew them out of all proportion in order to justify its repressive policies and garner support for them. The revolt is an expression of the frustration at social injustice.

    Contrary to the European experience, secularization in the Islamic world preceded a religious reformation – with profound negative consequences for political development in Muslim societies.

    http://en.qantara.de/webcom/show_article.php/_c-478/_nr-1005/i.html

  10. Taking a rather pessimistic note about this situtaion :

    Well many reasons why it does not happen in India, too self centered, too diverse, too fragmented. Basically its like what happens in one part does not affect the others. So people in Mumbai don’t really care if some TN fishermen get harassed by Sri Lankan navy, and as far as 26/11 it does not really affect, those not in Mumbai.

    Main reason is we just don’t have that kind of desperation that is needed. So its ok if prices rise as long as we pay for it, corruption yeah, not a problem, too, because we can pay for it. Basically more than poverty, corruption and inflation, its the apathy and indifference that is killing us.

  11. Someone should look at testosterone levels – there’s an insignificant biological basis to almost everything. Low testosterone people are typically more submissive, less likely to be violent, less likely to protest … fortunately one of the few redeeming things about us as a people.

  12. I think the simplest explanation is that we dont have a common enemy, no single govt to ouster

  13. […] India, we have banked on democracy and liberty to reform society. I feel this incremental social revolution has worked in most parts of the country. And we have to keep this social revolution going. The idea […]

  14. […] The third factor is the low levels of literacy and consequent distance of the general public from the state. For example, in India, a large amount of official business is carried out in English, and lack of English knowledge puts the citizen in a much weaker position than the official. In addition, since Indian society (and other post-colonial societies in general) are only emerging from a pre-modern feudal/tribal social setup to a modern egalitarian setup, awareness of legal rights and laws is low. Democracy can address this social inequality only incrementally. […]


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