A 22-year-old, who has become the new poster boy of protests in India, has announced plans for a 10-day march through major cities in the western state of Gujarat to press for his controversial demand that the Patels – widely considered to be among India’s most affluent communities – be given better access to government jobs and education through the quota system.
Hardik Patel, along with hundreds of thousands of supporters, dominated the headlines in India last week when he led a massive protest which shut down Ahmedabad, the main city in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
Now he is about to set out to replicate independence hero Mahatma Gandhi’s famous “salt march” from Ahmedabad to Dandi – except he’s going to reverse the route by starting on the beach of Dandi and ending at the Gandhi ashram (commune) in Ahmedabad.
Mr. Patel is not the first protester to grab eyeballs in India which, as Nobel Prize-winning author V. S. Naipaul famously said, “is a land of million mutinies”.
India has seen some of the world’s most unusual protests – and protesters.
Mahatma Gandhi – also known as the Father of the Nation – is India’s most well known protester. His methods were rather unusual – he believed in non-cooperation, non-violence and hunger-strikes. He preached passive resistance and convinced Indians to boycott British goods and services.
Gandhi most famously led a march to the sea shore to challenge the British government’s salt law and gladly went to prison for long periods.
His protest methods – of taking a moral high ground and shaming the opponent – have found favour globally and his name continues to be invoked by world leaders and politicians.
Decades after his death, his philosophy remains relevant – it was adopted by Nelson Mandela in South Africa while resisting apartheid, and very recently, it was also followed by Indian anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare.
In the 1970s, protesters in many parts of India were seen hugging trees in an attempt to prevent them from being cut down. The resistance, which came to be known as the Chipko (embrace) movement, began in the hills of north India where people depended on forests for their livelihoods.
Activists and villagers, including a large number of women, formed circles around trees, telling contractors that they would have to go through them first.
This unusual method of protecting forests has been replicated in many parts of the world, including in Nepal last year, when 2,001 schoolchildren hugged trees to set a world record.
Fed up of “moral policing” by Hindu hardliners who were ranting against pub-going women and attacking courting couples on Valentines Day, the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women launched the Pink Chaddhi Campaign (Pink Underwear Campaign) in 2009.
The group began collecting pink knickers to send to Pramod Muthalik, chief of right-wing vigilante group Sri Ram Sena (Army of Lord Ram), in a bid to shame him with the provocative gift on Valentine’s Day. The Sri Ram Sena had then made headlines for raiding a pub in the southern city of Mangalore and beating up women patrons.
Thousands joined the campaign and about 2,000 pink chaddhis were couriered to Mr.
Muthalik’s office in Mangalore.
And last year, a mass public kissing event was organised in the southern state of Kerala after a group of Hindu hardliners vandalised a cafe where a young couple was photographed kissing. It’s never a good idea to annoy a snake charmer, as some government officials learnt the hard way in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Angry with the officials who had failed to act on his petition for a plot of land to “conserve” his snakes, charmer Hakkul dumped dozens of snakes in a government office as nearly 100 officials looked on in disbelief.
Many managed to run out of the room, but many other panicked officials were seen climbing tables and chairs to escape the snakes, including some deadly cobras.