NEW DELHI: The Citizen organised a high profile panel discussion with students leaders from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Hyderabad Central University, Allahabad University and Jamia Millia Islamia coming together to discuss the one question echoing through their campuses: ‘Is dissent necessary?’ In conjunction with the event, The Citizen’s SHUBHDA CHAUDHARY organised a campus debate on the same topic. Of the entries received, Hansraj College stood out, winning both ‘For’ and ‘Against’ the motion. The winning entries are reproduced below:

Is Dissent Necessary? (For)
Kartik Banerjee
Hans Raj College

In the prime of the US-Vietnam war when the entire United States wished to fight the spread of Communism; one man stood against the will of the nation, Muhammad Ali. During his scheduled induction, he refused to enlist, saying, " My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America, I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong."

This refusal led to Ali's arrest and conviction. Even though he stayed out of prison, he was stripped of his titles, his boxing license was suspended, as a sportsman he lost the prime years of his career and more importantly, became perhaps the most hated person in the country; even being called out by his own African American community. But his actions made Americans question the need and ethicality of that was, making sure that the government does not continue fighting the war with its soldiers at stake.

This incident reminds us of the importance of dissent in any democracy. Dissent enables citizens to call out decisions of the government even if the decisions are well received by the majority. It requires courage to criticize and challenge the government's power even if it pits one against others.

The prevailing view in any democracy is that if a government's policies have the backing of the majority, then those who oppose should fall silent and respect the will of the majority. They should work together towards achievement of these goals and whoever disagrees is branded as anti national or seditious.

But I believe that honest citizens should not and cannot do so. True Patriots do not follow the administration blindly, but follow their own conscience and principles. Any democratic government should be tested and held accountable. An election may decide who the Prime minister will be, but that doesn't mean that his/ her actions will always be right.

Thus it is necessary to rely on your judgement, because this dissent is what enables you to stand against the Injustice or inaction of the government, even if it goes against the will of the majority. Without your dissent, the government and majority beliefs have no incentive to change and things will remain as it is. This inaction is what makes us as citizens guilty of the Injustices of our government, we know what is happening is wrong and still chose to turn a blind eye to it. Dissent is always the first step towards change and action because even if it is met with harsh challenges; firstly, it makes the majority question their beliefs and introspect. This was how Ali was able to change an entire nation's view on the ethics of war. Secondly, it makes the government engage and justify itself to you, as all democratic governments are accountable to its citizens.

Every democracy has dissent. Free men will always use free speech to express thought and any mature democracy should accept it, even if it is abhorrent to a few because every idea requires justification to the people by the presenter; this enables the evolution of ideas and the triumph of truth to occur something which cannot happen without dissent.

Therefore for the sake of Justice and for the evolution of any democracy, dissent will always be necessary. The importance of dissent is best summed up in this quote by Napoleon,

'The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of the good.'

Is Dissent Necessary? (Against)
Parth Maniktala
Hans Raj College

“It is not what you say, but how you say, that matters.” In this essay I shall not be talking about why we must not question entrenched structures of power, because in a lot of cases we should, and ought to. Rather I shall be focusing on the problematic manner in which dissent is emerging in modern democracies, and analyze how the kind of dissent we’re seeing antagonizes more people than it sensitizes.

Firstly, there is a need to define the term ‘dissent’. It simply refers to a view that differs from commonly held conceptions or opinions. Dissent may be voiced against the government, the army, religious bodies, media organizations; even your mobile network provider. The value of dissent lies in it stemming from a point of genuine concern, and having the effect of sensitization and sympathy-generation. But in today’s world, we’ve simply lost the tradition of well-intentioned dissent.

Let’s analyse the major sources of dissent in today’s day and age. We have tribals and otherwise oppressed people fighting legitimate battles for ownership of their land, and against arbitrary state exploitation. That is dissent born out of genuine desperation and oppression, and I support it wholeheartedly. But on the other hand, we have an emerging class of armchair critics: individuals who-- while seated in the comforts of their air-conditioned houses with all benefits of globalization at their disposal-- would criticize the functioning of NGOs, the operations of the military, the battles of tribals, and so on. This is not to suggest that we must not scrutinize these aspects of society. But rather our dissent should not be simply for the sake of voicing dissent. It shouldn’t be an attempt at meaningless controversy, or creation of arbitrary anti-incumbency. In case these armchair critics are willing to work on the ground level, analyse the situation for themselves, and then point out legitimate grievances- those are voices we must pay heed to. But in status quo, we have elite sections of the society (benefitting from all manifestations of capitalism, male privilege, caste privilege, and the like) criticizing the current structures- without any genuine intention of bringing about change.

Another important observation is concerning the manner in which this dissent is voiced. We all recognize Charlie Hebdo by virtue of the 2015 shootings that happened at their headquarters, and that was absolutely condemnable and in no way justifiable. But we must still objectively analyze the kind of religious satire propagated by Charlie Hebdo—in terms of publishing images of Jesus and Mohammed kissing, or another cartoon that depicted Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist with a bomb. Objectively speaking, there is societal value to questioning religious dogma, and we must all be in favour of sexual autonomy (since the cartoons were furthering a homosexual cause). But the question is: ‘was it right to offend the religious sentiments of millions of Muslims and Christians to spread this dissent?’ Do we not have more sensitive ways of voicing our challenge against established structures? Similarly, we must understand that the army can arbitrarily use its force, and needs to be more accountable. But for social media dissenters to paint all army men as rapists or inhuman monsters, has significant impact on the psyche of those who’ve themselves served in the army, and many families who’ve lost their loved ones serving the larger national cause.

In conclusion, I will not say that questioning those in power is bad; but simply that our voicing of dissent should not be for the sake of dissent itself- rather for the sake of a genuine improvement in status quo. That is when our dissent will be more accepted, and might lead to positive change.

(The Citizen. Is Dissent Necessary. Indian International Centre. November 6, 2017)