Thursday, June 01, 2006

Intelligent discontent calling

"Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation."
- Eugene V Debs

With the students of Presidency College, Kolkata stepping in, the Naxalite movement received the required shot in the arm. Intelligent, radical students from perhaps the most respectable families then participated in the movement that not only began to hog extensive media attention, but also managed to garner expert organisational abilities. That was India, post 1975, during the Emergency.

Similar revolutions, although not underground, have been happening in India over the last several months. Its an interesting exercise to analyse, why words like 'protests', 'anti', 'march', 'rally' have become daily parlance. It began with the Jessica Lal case, a travesty of justice which witnessed a furore across the country. Silent marches, candle-light walks, black days, petitions and silent rage were easily visible amongst the educated classes. However, a new form of protest also made head-way across satellite airwaves - the E-revolution.

SMS petitions, E-mail forwards and PetitionOnline became the latest protesting channels, which cleverly exploited the vast majority of intelligentsia with an opinion on every issue. For Online petitions, the idea was simple - all one needed to do was to register one's name, email address and their comments. Quick, easy and comfortable - three terms that today's generation eagerly identified with, have been the fountainhead of the E-revolution.

But a question worth asking is - Why a sudden burst of public opinion across every medium, in the past few months? Is the media hogging news coverage about protests? Could several mediums have collated together, giving the cause the required support? Or, was it just the Rang De Basanti effect?

As far as mediums go, intelligent and uncensored opinion has been successfully garnered through the E-revolution. In the recent fervent protests against Quotas by medicos and the subsequent hunger strike, 3 striking medicos passed away. While this news was kept at bay from the press, the simultaneous E-revolution by the protesting body 'Youth For Equality' left no stone unturned in spreading the message. The online petitions garnered against reservations, features in the list of the top 20 petitions worldwide, this year, on

The media certainly had tremendous fodder for coverage for something that it believed, was right. In fact, the Jessica Lal case went back from the cans back to the corridors of justice thanks to effective coverage and investigations on the shenanigans of the Delhi Police.

It wouldn't be trivialistic to assume that this year's most 'repeatedly' watched film, Rang De Basanti, struck the right cords with a generation that had become complacent about themselves. In fact, it gave the necessary fuel to ignite passions of young blood, which so far could merely bicker about the apalling state of affairs.

The lack of censor-ship in the E-revolution has been its greatest advantage. For a country where facts are swept under the floor thanks to the all-pervasive red-tapism in the bureacracy, any trivial information has spread like wild-fire across inboxes.

However, for the very same bureacracy, the effectiveness of an online petition by amassing thousands of signatures, is questionable. Also, while online petitions may work for national issues, their use is limited when it comes to local causes. The scope of the E-revolution still holds tremendous potential for causes which are largely unaccounted for by the daily press, viz. Alarming rate of farmer suicides across several parts of the state can achieve greater dimensions by spreading the word, online.

Globally however, petitions have acquired new dimensions altogether, moving beyond the bureacratic needs. Some of the top petitions signed this year were titled 'Please show Soccer World Cup Live at Stanford', 'Please show Rugby on ESPN and ESPN2', 'Issuance of US Postal Service Stamps on Diwali', 'Persian Gulf - a global heritage in danger', etc. In India too, recently, a petition was signed in large numbers requesting a radio station which decided to 'Go Hindi' to continue playing English tracks.

Nevertheless, we indeed are witnessing an alert generation that has suddenly begun to stand up for its rights. Artifice Inc., the private firm which runs PetitionOnline registers over 25 petitions daily, across the world. The conventional media must keep the people responsibly informed, in the meantime. After all, at the end of all the intelligent discontent, its the proposed solutions that matter. Till then, long live the revolution.