What is protest in a democracy?
Communicating opinion is a basic step in democracy or any other political system. Political systems have to represent public opinion. Democracy gives primacy to this idea in a constitutional manner. But even monarchies and martial law regimes have to function under this idea only. Whenever the rulers are against majority opinion, revolutions will follow and history provides enough evidences to this fact. No doubt, dictators and monarchs could rules for number of years. But still the revolutions did occur because the majority opinion was in favour of the revolution.
Protest is a second stage communication. Protest comes into picture when communication has no effect on the decision makers and the communicator becomes an aggrieved party. Protest can be done by one individual. For example, if one takes a loud speaker and goes around a street shouting slogans, we say he is protesting. He is not simply giving his opinion. He is trying to catch the attention of many to his issue. Protest can be by small group of people. Protest can be by a large group of people. Many protests are started by small number of people initially but some of them pick up numbers in the course of time. Protests do have the potential to turn a minority into majority and that is the aim of the protests in general. But protests can be for martyrdom. The people who are protesting know that they have to suffer a disadvantage but still protest hoping that at some point in time majority recognizes the injustice and take action to prevent it in the future.
Large scale protest that disrupts the routine activities of significant number of people is a third stage communication
Far from destabilising democracy, protest has been instrumental in forcing the introduction of most of the freedoms that now exist in liberal democracies. Direct action, mostly nonviolent, played a major role in the ending of slavery, extension of the franchise, curtailing ruthless aspects of the exploitation of labour and extending rights to women and minorities. Many of the so-called normal channels for working through the system, which are often recommended as prior to or preferable to direct action, have themselves been established through direct action. (Carter, 1973) .
Carter, April. 1973. Direct Action and Liberal Democracy. London: Routledge and Kegal Paul.
As quoted in https://www.uow.edu.au/~bmartin/pubs/94psa.html
Protests are signs of vibrant democracy. At village panchayat member level, at municipal ward level, and at higher levels protests have to take place to place a point of view more strongly before the concerned political representative, political executive, government executive, judicial authority, media, political party representatives, independent politicians, and general public.
Why I am writing this today. This post is in response to a feature by Suhel Seth in Sunday Mumbai Mirror of 4 January 2015. He equated protesters to idiots. The title given was "The cultural debate and the idiots that abound." It is totally uncalled for. In a living democracy you have encourage people to give their opinion more freely. To protest when they feel the issue is important.
It does not mean that democratic institutions have to come to a halt. But legislative work should not be taken up unless there is required quorum. The political executive should work under the existing laws and not clamour for new legislation when it lacks majority in the legislature. Also, the legislature must have time every day when it is in session when it can go without the presence of protesting legislators subject quorum.
(The article will be developed further in due course to time with collection of more article on the topic role of protest in democratic systems)