Question? The Right To Dissent

Background

India is an example of a vibrant, working democracy. It was born from the collective struggles of all Indians who united against the oppressive colonial powers. The independence movement inspired the birth of a single nation-state from a collection of princely states and British colonial provinces. On the eve of independence, India faced the grim outcome of the partition, where thousands of Indians from different religious and ethnic groups migrated from one nation to another. Despite the bloody conclusion of the independence movement in 1947, India embarked on an experiment with democracy, Which has continued today with relative success. The point being this experiment has not reached its desired conclusion.

In 2021, we stand at the crossroads of protecting our democratic rights. With growing cases of religious intolerance, inflation, declining public services, and clampdowns on free speech, it is clear India has entered an era filled with divisions and misdirections. There are growing levels of uncertainty and concern arising from increasing hate speech against minorities. Such disruptions are raising important questions about the validity of our democratic institutions. Many also question the sustainability of our democratic decision-making processes; in the face of an increasingly hostile and autocratic government.

The rise of an authoritarian government has shed light on the flexible nature of our democratic constitution. By manipulating the masses and self-serving political decision-making, the elected government has centralized and caused immense harm to our quasi-federal structure of governance. The suppression of opposition, censorship of media houses have spread misinformation among the people. With growing helplessness and frustration, it is difficult to project the future direction of Indian society. Therefore, we can see many social justice groups developing new tools and strategies to make the government accountable to the citizens of India.

The government is responsible for serving and protecting 1.4 billion Indians regardless of their caste, creed, and class. However, the government has failed in its duties towards the nation. Many children lost access to education, and thousands died each day during the peak of the pandemic. Migrant workers walked home, the middle class faced high prices, and farmers protested against laws they saw as unfit. Over the past seven years, we have seen a decline in democratic discussions and consultations. Majoritarianism and populism have led the government to spend more time on perception management than on actual good governance.

Design

When we define the design process, we think of the traditional design, such as creating physical or digital materials: cars, buildings, sandwich makers, mobile apps, and websites. Designing for a sustainable society requires using the design process to improve relationships between people. This shift in understanding is essential for opening a new frontier in the use of design.

Social Design succeeds in community-led efforts where people from different backgrounds contribute to a common cause. For building a better future for all, community leaders and visionaries must step forward to take charge. Community leaders can bring citizens together to collaborate, foster grassroots innovations, youth leadership, and hope.

Problem

The Government

The government has taken steps that have severely weakened the morale of the masses. The use of draconian and colonial laws to suppress opposition and cries for justice have become a daily show. There have countless instances where the government’s actions have affected the lives of the masses negatively. I will present a few cases in front of you.

  1. A citizens’ register issued in August in the eastern state of Assam excluded nearly two million residents, effectively rendering them stateless. Most were ethnic Bengalis, including many Muslims.
  2. The Supreme Court allowed the construction of a Hindu temple at a disputed religious site, where a mosque had stood until its illegal demolition by Hindu Extremists in 1992.
  3. In December 2019, Parliament adopted a new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims, triggering widespread protests harshly suppressed in some religions.
  4. India’s status declined from Free to Partly Free due to a multi-year pattern of a Hindu nationalist government that has presided over rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population.
  5. The government failed to respond to the second wave of corona virus and engaged in state election campaigns leading to catastrophic loss of life.

Understanding Dissent

Dissent is the unwillingness to cooperate with an established source of authority, which can be social, cultural, or governmental. Dissent is essential for maintaining civic authority over governmental power. Therefore, we must inquire to what extent dissent should be tolerated and controlled by a state.
Dissent in India is all about promoting a democratic debate among its masses and the elected government.

For democracy to flourish in our nation, we must learn to face criticisms and take action to solve systemic issues.

  1. Dissent has a critical role within our judicial system and parliamentary form of democracy. To exercise our right to dissent, we must understand its value.
  2. Dissent and free expression are some of the most important fundamental rights awarded by the constitution to its people.
    Today an authoritarian government is suppressing our right to dissent and raise questions.
  3. Our sacred democratic institutions, civil societies, and media organizations are collapsing, and the time to take meaningful actions is slipping from our hands.

UN Sustainable Goal

The United Nations has made it a priority to achieve sustainable development for all people on Earth. Hence, it is crucial to understand the UN SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.

Conflict, insecurity, weak institutions, and limited access to justice remain an immense threat to sustainable development. Therefore, we must understand the following goals and develop interventions to help inculcate them into the general consciousness.

  1. Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.
  2. Develop effective, accountable, and transparent institutions at all levels.
  3. Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels.
  4. Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms by national legislation and international agreements.

Indian society faces many challenges that restrain its growth into a liberal democratic society. The Republic of India is one of the nations that uphold the principle of Social justice. Among the objectives stated in the preamble, the people of India resolve to constitute India into a sovereign republic to secure social, economic, and political justice to all its citizens, thus reflecting the hopes and aspirations of all. Yet, enunciating the principle of social justice is one thing, but making it effective is quite another. To achieve social justice, India needs to address the myriad of problems faced by the country.

The principle of Social justice can become inoperative in the absence of peace, security, and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
India has introduced many legislation to tackle societal issues, such as reservation policy to reserve seats and jobs for marginalized groups.

Furthermore, female suppression has been pervasive over the span of the history of India. In recent years, women’s status has also been subject to many changes but, they are still discriminated against and excluded from decision-making processes.

In addition, female infanticides, honor killings, dowry violence, and child marriages are many evils; which have proved challenging to root out despite the constitutional and legal provisions.

Question? Social Justice Toolkit Project

Foundational Principles

The toolkit stands on a stable foundation of immovable principles. These principles define the use of this toolkit and what it wishes to achieve. A proper understanding of these values can help in better implementation.

Inclusive Actions
Inclusion involves representing diverse groups, for example, a mix of gender, age, and ethnicity. It also ensures differing views and perspectives are present. Inclusive action is a direct extension of this idea. For any social cause to be successful, all necessary actions of the campaign include the views, needs, and wishes of all people involved.

Equality in Thought
Equality is the foundation of any democracy. There must be an equal opportunity for everyone to present their personal views on any subject matter. It is not enough to give someone a place at the table, but we must guarantee everyone equal voice, respect, and considerations.

Respect for Democratic Processes
When we ask questions or express our dissent, we must not work outside the confines of democratic rights and duties. We must respect the rule of law and work with the confinements of the system. Respect for democratic processes is essential for a successful initiative.

Reasoned and Respectful Deliberations
Deliberative processes involve informed, reasoned, and respectful discussions that focus on facts and the future needs of the people. It is critical to respect dissenting opinions and ideas. All participants should have opportunities to speak and to be listened to with respect.

Why this Tool Kit?

This toolkit gives a framework, tools, and ideas to successfully organize campaigns to bring dissenting opinions to the people in power. It will help initiate progressive movements to bring changes to our society.

It is essential to know that a single dissenter is not enough. Individuals require the backing of society to bring any meaningful changes for the people. Dissent only has value when people understand and accept your reasons and opinions.

The tool kit aims to make actively asking questions from oneself and others the center of civilian agitation. It will help direct public discourse towards a particular topic of social interest. The tool kit is flexible in design as asking questions is fundamental to any matter of national interest. It promotes a more holistic approach towards designing campaigns to promote widespread discourse across different media channels. By using multiple channels, we can ensure that the authorities cannot suppress voices across mediums.

(Re)framing Dissent

Dissent has an essential role to play in democratic institutions and processes. But we must understand that dissent is an alien terminology for many Indians.

Dissent, critical thinking, and tolerance are essential tools for building an active citizenry. However, it is necessary to know how to use these tools to raise voices effectively. Thus it is vital to reframe the issues related to dissent in easy-to-understand and digestible terms. Hence, we reframe dissent in terms of asking questions.

(Re)framing dissent is an essential step in creating a culture of free speech in our democratic society. Our society needs an easier way to understand these processes. So we need to make an effort to bring the idea of opposition down to the grassroots level.

Therefore, we bring out the idea of questioning everything and everyone. As mentioned earlier, dissenting by asking questions is the very foundation of opposition in a democracy. We must train and develop a temperament of asking questions to bring the true spirit of an active citizenry into our system of governance.

An Attitude to Ask Questions

We must make an effort to bring systemic change to our society. To do that, we need to gain the support of the masses. Demanding change without any valid reasons leads to a lack of public support and interest in the topic.

When we ask questions, we engage the public in the issues we raise. This engagement helps build momentum behind the campaign and forces the elected government and machinery to interact and take action.

We must promote the art of asking questions as it is a crucial skill for building awareness. Asking questions often creates an atmosphere of teaching and learning to help us understand complex issues. Asking questions can help construct and identify several interlinkages between individuals and various communities.

It is important to remember that asking questions can solve problems.
Asking questions is a tool that requires constant practice. We need to keep asking relevant questions to master this skill and use it effectively for raising social issues.

Framework for your Campaign

This toolkit has 8 phases to build a campaign on any social issue with asking questions at its core. It is a flexible framework that promotes a more holistic campaign development where people make an effort to bring their voices of change to multiple mediums like the street and social media.

We hope that the people can use this framework to build a sound and successful campaign to raise their questions and bring change.

Understand the Boundaries of Dissent

  1. Dissent is the unwillingness to cooperate with an established source of authority, which can be social, cultural, or governmental.
  2. Dissent must go hand-in-hand with critical thinking and tolerance.
  3. Dissent must follow the path of non-violence and peace.
  4. Dissent must lead to the introspection of actions concerning others.
  5. Dissent must improve the capacity of individuals for collective public reasoning.

Defining and Test your Objectives

  1. Define your objectives based on logical facts without being affected by your feelings and interpretation of reality.
  2. Ask and discuss the issues you want to raise with experts.
  3. Read and research to find resources that support your objectives.
  4. Document and distribute your findings to people to get a response.

Engagement and Communication with the Base

  1. Find and Engage with like-minded individuals that agree with your objectives.
  2. Raise awareness and communicate using different mediums.
  3. Spread the word about your objectives in easy to digest language.
  4. Improve engagement by listening to the ideas of your base by considering their views.
  5. Respect the act of asking questions to promote cohesion and unity in your base.

Assessment of Organizational Readiness

  1. Test the evidence that backs your objectives before developing your initiative.
  2. Focus on developing a road map to identify pitfalls in your initiative.
    Assess the strength of your messaging before spreading it to the world.
  3. Documentation of the resources you will use is an important step to promote trust and loyalty.
  4. Your team must spend time analyzing the positive and negative effects your initiative might bring.
  5. Any strong campaign needs to focus on filling knowledge gaps before launching into action.

Plan for your Initiative

  1. All initiatives are affected by personal and environmental factors.
  2. For successful implementation of the campaign, create constructive strategies with clear goals in mind.
  3. Develop your initiative consisting of multiple components, and one should always use the best practices to organize the movement.
  4. Identify the mode of delivery for each component and element of the intervention.

Train, Coach, and Transfer of Learnings

  1. Each initiative must have a series of instructions to replicate the campaign without expert supervision.
  2. A sound set of guidelines can help transfer knowledge on day-to-day practice and improvement of the initiative.
  3. A strictly followed checklist and manuals for the initiative can provide the community with a clear requirement for a successful campaign.
  4. Each initiative is as strong as its knowledge bank, a resource of updated information built for the community.
  5. A series of interactive sessions and forums are the go-to methods to transfer knowledge regarding the objectives, outcomes, and initiative.

Evaluation of Activities

  1. Each successful initiative has a robust set of outcomes to judge the success rate of the campaign.
  2. Evaluation takes place on multiple levels like implementation methodologies, themes, and community support.
  3. It is essential to collect and use feedback to improve the initiative.
  4. It is vital to talk to others to gauge the effects of the campaign for developing a new plan for continuing the effort.

Improvement of Initiatives

  1. Develop an action plan to sustain the efforts by rectifying any mistakes and addressing new opportunities identified.
  2. Identify and change your objectives to improve its sustainability over a long period.
  3. For any successful initiative, it is vital to change the mode of delivery of the campaign to keep the community base engaged with the effort.
  4. It is intelligent to collaborate with others to increase access to the resources for financial stability and keep the community engaged with new plans and ideas.

Keep asking questions

  1. Asking relevant questions generates interest in a topic. The very act of questioning promotes tolerance to change.
  2. Critical thinking and asking questions is vital for developing the capacity of individuals to examine their lives.
  3. Asking questions improves our ability to think and make sound decisions as a collective.
  4. Asking questions builds a tolerant atmosphere of inclusion and consent.
  5. Toleration improves by respecting the right to question.
  6. Toleration creates a culture of liberal values, inter-cultural exchange and, protection of all individuals supported by the collective will of the society.

Conclusion

Question? covers only a small requirement of a greater need for community-driven campaigns. We require more community participation to bring systemic and permanent changes. It is vital to realize that engagement is instrumental to campaign success. Beyond that, however, transforming the attitudes of people is the true challenge. Designers, campaigners, and activists don’t always appreciate the opinions of the local population.

This tool kit cannot force change on the people; they have to accept the proposed changes in front of them. Hence, it is better to engage with them on multiple levels and emphasize the need for change.

If we succeed in increasing acceptance of our dissenting opinions, that is a start for something bigger.

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Debaditya Sekhar Jena

Reverie & Delectation. Currently pursuing my Bachelors of Design at DTU.