NEW YORK – An unrelenting wave of frenzied protests and demonstrations against elected leaders, government action, and perceived injustice continues to stir public consciousness and make headlines globally, from New Delhi to New York, in 2020.
Caught in its vortex are popular conservative leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump, who are skimming the waves like expert surfers, at least for now, as their voter base more or less remains intact.
A Public Radio International report outlined the global protests last year against injustice, demand for reforms and push for regime change. From India to Iraq, Venezuela to Algeria, Haiti to Spain, Hong Kong to Colombia, Puerto Rico to Iran, millions of people reached their breaking point. The soaring cost of everyday necessities sparked protests that spiraled into major movements in countries like France, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Sudan and Chile.
In some cases last year, mass protests ousted longtime leaders globally, the PRI report noted, citing the cases of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir; Iraq’s prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri; Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika; Evo Morales in Bolivia; while Puerto Rico saw the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
In other cases, mass protests stalled or stagnated, leaving governments and citizens in precarious states. Apart from Venezuela, other Latin American countries like Nicaragua and Ecuador saw mass protests that were stalled or shutdown with excessive police force and government-led crackdowns on dissent. In Hong Kong, an extradition bill that sparked the fuse for massive student-led, pro-democracy movement continues. In Iran, a major fuel hike in December pushed protesters out onto the streets across the country, only to be met with an internet blackout followed by a bloody crackdown, killing dozens of protesters, the report said.
As 2019 came to a close, Beirut streets were in flames, and Lebanon’s proposed ‘WhatsApp tax’ unleashed a flood of anger that quickly turned into larger anti-government demonstrations. Since October 2019, Chile has been gripped by waves of social unrest unprecedented since its transition to democracy in 1990. And after over 50 years of civil war, Colombia’s peace process has faltered and thousands of people took to the streets in November 2019 in a national strike that morphed into a weeks-long, anti-government protest.
This year has already seen vigorous protests build up in the US against Trump, following his impeachment in the House, and frenzied calls grow for his removal from office. Public anger is welling up in China against government officials for not taking stronger action to control spiraling outbreak of a deadly new Coronavirus; a pandemic wreaking havoc, and is now spelling trouble for the global economy as well.
Demonstrations against the Trump administration over the years have come in all shapes and sizes: protests, rallies and marches, sit-ins, die-ins and banners unfurled at the Statue of Liberty, amNewYork noted.
Although Trump Tower has been a favorite of protesters, demonstrations have taken place across the city, including at Trump International Hotel and Tower, Stonewall National Monument, Battery Park, Tompkins Square Park, Washington Square Park, Times Square outside Kennedy Airport and the United Nations.
On Monday evening, protesters swamped Grand Central Terminal during peak rush hour, and shouted slogans against the President. They put up placards and banners condemning him, and demanded witness testimony to proceed in the Senate where impeachment process is going on.
In India, the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which gives asylum to minorities except Muslims, from the neighboring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and the controversial census count-like projects, NRC and NPR – which plans to identify and database all individuals living in the country, has seen vigorous demonstrations.
Protests that spilled over from university campuses to streets of many cities continue to roil the nation. Shaheen Bagh – a residential colony in Delhi, has now become a byword for 24/7 sit-in protest, led mostly by women agitators. The act has been emulated in many other places nationally.
International repercussions are growing, as some liberal elected representatives in the US House and Senate have raised their voice against India’s actions. The European Union is set to vote on the issue. India is incensed by what it perceives as interference in their domestic issues.
Some civil rights organizations and activists held protests in multiple cities across the US as well as Toronto as part of a ‘Day of Action’ on India’s Republic Day, on January 26th, demanding the repeal of the CAA, and to urge action by the US government in this regard. The organizations included the Indian American Muslim Council, Equality Labs, Black Lives Matter, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Hindus for Human Rights.
“The CAA is an integral part of the Modi government’s strategy of creating a stateless Muslim population, that can be profiled, treated as second-class citizens, and imprisoned in massive detention centers already being built in India,” said Dalit rights activist and founder of Equality Labs, Thenmozhi Soundararajan.
A Reuters report this week noted demonstrations from Harvard to San Francisco condemning the Indian government.
A woman, identified only by her first name, Nidhi, who emigrated to the United States when she was five and has taken part in demonstrations against CAA, in Texas, was quoted as saying: “If we as Indo-Americans don’t raise our voice, we are complicit.” Microsoft Corp’s India-born CEO, Satya Nadella, told Buzzfeed News this month the citizenship law, or CAA, was “bad.””
The Reuters report also quoted a retired engineer, Krishna Vavilala, 82, who was excited by Modi’s rise and recounted being photographed at “Howdy, Modi!” event in Texas. He now wants Modi to speak to more reporters, and also urged Modi to clarify “perceptions” that he wants to sideline minorities.
“His heart is in the right place,” said Vavilala. “But the euphoria of “Howdy, Modi!” has lost its shine.”
It’s not as if Modi has lost support in the US, though. Support for him and his actions remain strong.
Hundreds of members of the Indian American community thronged Times Square, on January 26th, to voice their support for Modi and CAA. They came dressed in traditional Indian clothes, armed with Indian flags, and Republic day posters. Patriotic and nationalistic cries of “Vande Mataram”, and, “Bharat Mata Kee Jai”, were rendered frequently.
The core participants of 200 or so Indians drove from neighboring New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Virginia to join members of the Indian diaspora in New York.
The group had no leadership but comprised of energized individuals like Vinay Agrawal, Sharad Agrawal, Pramod Bhagat, and Rajiv Goyal, who voiced their support for Modi and CAA, and grew support through social media.
They expressed relief that finally, after 70 long years, India has finally taken steps to accept refugee status of those minorities from neighboring countries that have been systematically persecuted to the point of eradication.
According to them, there are parallels between India’s CAA and America’s Lautenberg Amendment; a humane act that stands up for religiously persecuted minorities and gives them dignity to live.
The Lautenberg and Specter amendments have been providing legal safe haven in the US for religiously persecuted minorities for over two decades to tens of thousands of Jewish, Christian, Baha’i, and other religious minorities fleeing Iran and the former Soviet Union.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)