The Right To Protest by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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Faizabad Interchange, the main gateway that connects the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, has currently been blocked as hundreds of protesters have been holding a dharna there. The sit-in has continued for over 17 days and major road links are still blocked.
As people continue to suffer mercilessly, the administration seems helpless in ending the sit-in. At least two lives had been lost because ambulances have failed to reach hospitals on time due to severe traffic jams. The suspension of the metrobus service has further multiplied the suffering of people, particularly working women and students.
The right to protest is considered to be a recognised human right. In a democratic society, every citizen must raise their voices against any unjust or wrong practices. Similarly, it is quite common for every political, religious and social organisation throughout the world to organise protests on various issues.
However, the teachings of all religions have emphasised that a citizen must not be violent or threaten the public interest. According to Islam, it is not permissible to harm travellers under any circumstances. Removing harmful features from roads is considered to be a noble and charitable pursuit. A prominent aspect of Hinduism is Ahimsa, which means ‘not to harm’. It is a key virtue whereby hurting another human being is akin to hurting yourself. In modern history, Mahatma Gandhi used strategies that were based on Ahimsa to lead the independence movement against the British imperialists.
There is a divergence of opinion in every society and it is the responsibility of the state to maintain peaceful environment that is in the interest of all citizens. I have personally witnessed various demonstrations that are organised in other countries. The key difference between the citizens of the developed and the developing world is the manner in which they choose to protest. In the West, creative methods have been adopted by activists and social movements to register a protest. Some of these methods include organising marches, rallies and sit-ins, holding innovative placards and banners and boycotting products. Many artists, intellectuals and writers have also used their skills to support various causes.
Unfortunately, the situation in developing countries such as Pakistan is quite complex. Protests have become synonymous with putting pressure on the government regarding a specific issue. Almost all parties – regardless of their political or religious affiliations – have adopted violent strategies when they hold protests. Regrettably, they believe that the government will never listen to their demands unless they become violent and create hurdles for the public. Over the years, Faizabad Interchange has become a major site for protests.
It is quite unfortunate that nobody seems to understand how people are being inconvenienced due to such protests. Such schools of thought, which reflect a narrow-minded and selfish approach, must be discouraged. However, it isn’t fair to only criticise protesters. The prime responsibility lies with the state and it must work tirelessly to avoid any untoward situations. Like Parliament House and other sensitive installations in the Red Zone, Faizabad Interchange is also a symbol of the state and nobody should be allowed to occupy it. The people will have greater confidence in the government if the state-run metrobus service remains active and security measures are tightened.
A number of foreign diplomats and envoys are facing difficulties in accessing airports. The foreign media has also voiced its reservations about the state’s effectiveness because the protesters have succeeded in disturbing life in the capital. The current crisis has also put a question mark on the security of the CPEC route.
History offers us countless examples to show that creative and non-violent methods always play a pivotal role winning the public’s sympathy while negative and violent means inevitably harm a particular cause – even if it is a noble one. We have a good example of this in Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s untiring efforts to lead the Pakistan Movement in a peaceful and non-violent way. Quaid-e-Azam was a law-abiding citizen. He encouraged people to participate in protests as long as these demonstrations did not come at the cost of the public interest. I would strongly urge the government to remove protesters from Faizabad Interchange on an immediate basis as it is in the best interest of the country and its people.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.
Twitter: @RVankwani

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