Apr 24, 2011, 1:59 IST
The government may have been brought to its knees by the agitation by villagers protesting what they called their ‘forceful inclusion’ into the Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation, but many socio-political observers believe that tribal-rights activist and independent MLA from Vasai, Vivek Pandit’s “creative protest” has won him another battle.
After adivasis, farmers and kolis from 35 villages around the Vasai region in Thane district undertook a 100-km march with their cows, buffaloes and goats to Vidhan Bhawan, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan told the legislative assembly announced the exclusion of 29 of the 35 villages saying, “They were far off from the city limits and were important from agriculture and environmental points of view.” This has brought into sharp focus the power of the unique protest. But can what some are calling ‘a stunt’ be considered a part of a well-thought strategy?
“No,” says Vivek Pandit who is dismissive of labels like ‘stunt’. “I’ve been called wily by elitist opponents but in these times you need to be a bit wily to get your way around,” laughs the man who has worked for over three decades against bonded and child labour in Thane.
In 2002, the then-forests and environment minister Surpsingh Naik ruled that adivasis living inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park reserve areas would not be allowed to graze goats there. “Their goats were confiscated and they were told the animals will be released only if a Rs5,000 fine was paid.”
“We went to Azad Maidan and were stopped there. Later,the police came to take me to meet Naik at Mantralaya. Though the alarmed security guards tried to stop them, some goats were picked up and lowered onto the lush green lawns and began feeding on everything in sight. When chased, two of the animals fled into the building, leading to much chaos and mirth,” he remembers with glee.
Politics of spectacle
Others like veteran socialist Mrinal Gore, aka paniwali bai, who in a way pioneered the ‘politics of spectacle’, also admits that ideas of protest which emerge from the community have greater impact as they send out the right message because of their grassroots nuances. “I have been a part of many agitations, but the one which stuck to my image was a protest in the summer of 1972 when women took to the streets in thousands brandishing rolling pins to demand water supply,” recounts the 80-year old activist.
There have been instances when the idea has come from the leader and the community has adopted it with its own socio-cultural context. While Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan decided to protest against the raising of the height of the dam and the consequent increase in submergence it will cause, there were many who joined her call to stand in the rising waters. “We have never opposed development, like a lot of propaganda misleads others into believing,” says Medha Patkar. “Ours has always been a people’s movement and it is this style that emotionally moves the locals who form the bulwark of our support base.”
No flash in pans
Bhima Tadvi of Shahada in Nandurbar should agree. This Bhil adivasi participated in the Jal Samdhi for the first time in 1999. “I participate whenever Medhatai gives out a call,” he says, and adds, “The authorities anyway want to uproot and wipe us out. What better way to die than in the lap of our mother Narmada.”
Dr S Parsuraman, a leading anthropologist and director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, admits that movements get the initial push and acceleration through such unique protests. “But they will fizzle out unless the leader has a body of work,” he warns. He cites the example of Anna Hazare’s recent fast against corruption and the chord it struck with the nation.