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The Power of Protest

The Power of Protest

By Samira Bose

On my visit to Bangkok, Thailand in December, I found a unique display at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Students had made figurines which stood together in the form of a protest march, holding miniature posters with slogans such as ‘Bullshit Government Ever’ and ‘Don’t Bring Drama to Our Future’. The view from the balcony of the Centre was of masses of people in pink waving the Thai flag and whistling in unison, in fact that was the view from all the stops on the BTS that passed through central Bangkok. A young girl on the metro handed me a clapper she had used, and I turned to see that almost everyone had souvenirs from participating in the protests. The air tasted of remonstration and the art screamed of politics. As a tourist, I caroused in the excitement of the experience, but in retrospect I realize the weight of everything I was witnessing.

 As I read about the military coup d’état that took place on the 22nd of May that dissolved the caretaker government, I was awestruck by the strenuous condition of Thai politics and further exploration has simply added to my befuddlement. A man stopped us in Chinatown and told, ‘The Shinawatras, they are very corrupt’ and he invited us to join him in ‘speaking up against corruption’. It appears that as approximately 24 people have died with hundreds injured in the clashes between “Yellow Shirt” opposition forces, led by Suthep Thaugsuban (a  deputy prime minister in the previous Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government) and pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts” who support Thailand’s first female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. The complete overthrowing of the government by the military leader Prayuth in this coup, has perhaps led to the repetition of the mistake of the military coup in 2006 which made Thaksin Shinawatra appear as a martyr for democracy, despite the fact that there were serious allegations of corruption and undemocratic actions against him. This coup has led to a political limbo in Thailand, yet to be resolved and too intricate for an immediate solution.

 Any attempt of a brief explanation would be an unjust oversimplification and it appears that most of the political and military participants have a fair share of blame in the situation. The democratically elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra (currently in exile) as well as his sister Yingluck is said to be due to their broad based rural support. The Democratic Party which is in opposition is said to have its base in the elite classes of Thailand, who were always in minority and it was against their wishes that Shinawatra was elected. The military coup under the pretext of maintaining peace in the country as well as apparently representing the people’s dissatisfaction has further thrown the political situation off balance.

 To form a judgment at this point, especially one gleaned from the citizens of Thailand would be perplexing to say the least as the Thai society gets further polarized via its political leaders. Yet I cannot wipe off from my mind the view of the masses that came together to voice their qualms. There were democratic elections held, the powers were abused and the decision of the people (at least some) was to collectively oust the corrupt leader. It is understood that every country has its social context and diversity, yet here what is remarkable is the fact that the people are clearly involved in the politics of the State and it does not take a back-seat even in their art. Though the military control at the moment has completely quelled all voices of dissent and I remain ambiguous even about the underlying principles of these voices, the sway of the protests overwhelmed me.

 It is not that I am promoting at all the situation in Thailand and drawing parallels, I am merely pointing out that this is an example of the influence that the citizens of a country can actually have. They all revere their King, yet within the monarchical structure they powerfully voice their opinions. I am still in the hair-splitting process of trying to have an angle with which I view the situation, yet from my experience in Thailand I am thriving on the idea that there is no sitting back. With extremely controversial elections held in India recently, and mixed exclamations of dismay and elation, we are in a situation where we are waiting and watching. The inspiration that I got in December is that when a nation is waiting and watching, and where people can come together despite the lightning bolt reigns of political powers, a government can never rest. We make the government, and we can break it and as citizens can celebrate the fact that we form the base that shapes the political functioning of a country. We are the people and we have the power of protest, and can prevent a government (especially one that is democratically elected) from getting complacent.

Samira Bose is a student of History and Mystery. She questions incessantly, revels in the rain and listens to the breeze. She yearns for clarity but at the same time seeks confusion and she wants her life to be analogous to the sea. She wants to become many people and wishes to be overwhelmed by experience. Most importantly, she hopes to become a story-teller. Tell her your thoughts and stories at [email protected]

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