How to 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 other.
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 this exemption.
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 miscreants.
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 precision.
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 a bullhorn.
"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 screamed agreement.
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 better catharsis?
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 is life.



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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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