Organize a Demo
By N.A. Bhatti
Demos, demos, demos everywhere
in the world! Demonstrations, abbreviated to demos,
are a feature of daily life. Hardly a day passes
when you don't read about a demo somewhere or the
A few instances culled from my Titbits File: "Dhaka
college students demanding the right to cheat in
examinations", "Cuban demos in Miami protesting
against the possibility of normalising relations
with the US"; "Manila demo of 2000 screaming
and prancing girls protesting police raids on bars
and night-clubs; they had earlier threatened to
march through Manila's Ermita tourist district without
clothes, but as a concession to law enforcing authorities,
they were clothed in black." The lengthy headline
is the news itself.
Demos can be spontaneous or pre-planned, peaceful
or violent, awami (popular) or sarkari (government),
piddling demos of 20-odd people or massive awe-inspiring
demos one million plus strong, such as those worldwide
protests against the technique of fighting terrorism
"in all its forms and manifestations".
They serve as psychological safety devices similar
to fuses or pressure gauges.
Unfortunately, demos in Pakistan tend more towards
violence than peace. Tires are burned, traffic is
disrupted, cops in battle rig lunge with steel-tipped
batons into defenseless marchers and spectators,
cracking a few skulls, and causing national losses
of millions of rupees. Law-enforcing authorities
are reported in the following morning's newspapers
as having 'rushed to the spot', taken charge and
brought the situation under control. Mission accomplished!
Or has it?
I have seen quite a number of ways of venting frustration
in other countries and find that we should follow
the examples of some of them. The Brits for starters.
We should establish Hyde Parks in every city and
town. Anybody can stand on a wooden crate in the
park and yell his guts out, lambasting anyone he
wishes to target, except the royal family. However,
I am told that in view of their royals' occasional
scandalous behavior, the British might vote to remove
During the so-called Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution in China in the sixties, we watched demos
galore. Mao Tse-Tung actually encouraged demos!
I remember there were huge notice boards installed
by the city's administration along Peking's main
roads. On these notice boards were pasted the daily
newspaper, poems, slogans, views of the leading
revolutionary personalities and even scurrilous
cartoons. One of these was that of the Chinese President
Liu Shao Chi (branded a 'revisionist') dancing with
the (then) Soviet Union's First Lady!
But for organizing state-of-the-art demos, you couldn't
beat the Beijing Municipal Administration's combination
of _expression of anger-cum-joy-cum-comedy-cum-farce
all rolled into one three-hour drama that kept people
lined up six deep for a couple of hours.
A few days earlier, we witnessed the unmistakable
signs of a demo coming up: steel pipe and canvas
shelters sprang up at intervals along the demo's
route to accommodate cold water facilities, latrines
and first-aid stations to handle casualties and
fire brigades and police pickets to deal with possible
By 8.45 a.m. on the dot, contingents from offices,
schools and colleges, factories, villages and communes
were in earmarked positions in the Tien An Men Square,
the world's largest. At 9.00 a.m. a brass band sounded
and the demo stepped out in a march that any army
in the world could envy for military formation and
We watched the gigantic show from the rooftop of
Wai Jiao Ta Lou (literally, 'Foreigners' Big Building',
Beijing's Diplomatic Enclave). Leading the demo
were three professional actors dressed as 'Uncle
Sam', complete with coat-tails. striped trousers,
top-hat with Stars-and-Stripes and the '$' sign
boldly stencilled on their backs. The makeup guys
had fitted their red faces with ridiculously large
red putty noses. Their hands were manacled together
and chained behind their backs and they kept mumbling
in apologetic English: "We velly solly! We
velly solly!" (We are very sorry!).
Right behind the three Uncle Sams were three other
actors made up as Vietnamese peasants wearing black
trousers and conical hats. They held wicked-looking
pitchforks with which they kept prodding the Uncle
Sams who let out agonized OUCH every time the prongs
of the pitchforks hurt their posteriors.
Then came a platoon of marchers led by a man with
"Da Dou Mei Guo Ju Yi!" thundered the
bullhorn. (Down with US imperialism!)
"Da Dou Mei Guo Ju Yi!" echoed No. 1 platoon
with raised clenched fists.
"Da Dou Zhou Tsi Pai!" boomed the bullhorn.
("Down with Capitalist Roaders!"). The
platoon dutifully echoed.
"Da Dou Fan Tung Pai!" yelled the bullhorn.
("Down with reactionaries!") The squadron
Then came number two platoon, then number three,
and on and on, following the same pattern: the roar
of a bullhorn then the echoing roar of the following
platoon. Gaily painted banners depicted US bombers
over Vietnam and pilots downed by Vietnamese peasantry.
A carnival atmosphere prevailed as the demo marched
in approved military style. Diplomats watched the
whole drama with interest. Little Cuban kids dashed
about excitedly, waving their national flags. We
drove down Chang An Boulevard in the evening. By
then all the temporary structures had been dismantled,
the traffic lights were functioning normally, no
tires had been burned or shop windows smashed. Life
was going on as usual.
How about our authorities legislating all future
demos to be held on a similar pattern, thus saving
billions of rupees every year lost in haphazard
demos, not to speak of 'precious lives'?
'Saanp bhi mar jae, lathi bhi bach jae!' says an
Urdu advice. ("Let the snake should die but
the cudgel remain intact"). I am thinking of
approaching our own MNA and recommending that he
should initiate legislation that there should be
demos but, as in the case of the Chinese, these
should be in the form of shows for a fun-starved
people. These should be organized by the government
in collaboration with major political parties. What
Raise hands, those in favor! Whaaaaat? Over half
the Assembly seats empty?! Our legislators appear
to have devised their own way of demonstrating,
so I think my suggestion, all in the national interest,
will remain a voice lost in the wilderness. Such