Conflict & Justice

India: Protests rage... at Reebok


Indian chairperson from the separatist group Muslim Khawateen Markaz, Yasmeen Raja (C), and her supporters shout anti-US slogans during a protest against an anti-Islam movie in Srinagar on Sept. 17, 2012. A total of 17 people have died in violence linked to the film, including four Americans killed in Benghazi, 11 protesters who died as police battled to defend US missions from mobs in Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen, and the two US soldiers in Afghanistan.



OK folks, here's more proof that a thousand protesters in India are equal to one lonely guy in America whining in his basement. And evidence that the burning of effigies -- though, yes, it sometimes ends in the burning of people -- isn't an anti-US thing.

First up, "Reebok franchisees hit the streets," according to the Hindustan Times.

"More than 200 franchisee store owners under the banner of two associations--Delhi Reebok Franchisees' Association and Rest of North India Reebok Franchisees' Association--took out a rally and staged a demonstration at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi," the paper writes.

Showing some commitment to bland newspaper prose, HT failed to register any surprise that Jantar Mantar, India's protest central, was unoccupied for the day until the Reebokers showed up. And, of course, nobody remarked on the accidental hilarity of the name "Rest of North India Reebok Franchisees' Association."  Oh well.

But guess what, "The protesters chanted slogans against Reebok and its parent group, Germany's Adidas, and burnt an effigy that sported a Reebok T-shirt and shoes."

(Note: the franchisees' beef is that the company has developed a new business model, and is unloading old merchandise at 50 percent off -- allegedly costing the franchisees big bucks).

Surprised? You shouldn't be. As I wrote yesterday for GlobalPost, India is Protest Nation.

Chill out America. Street protests have been the primary form of political mobilization in India since the days of Mohandas K. Gandhi. And although the burning of effigies looks frightening on camera, it's hardly more unusual here than a rush hour traffic jam. The only thing that changes is the flag and the sign around the effigy's neck. And more often than not the demonstrations — or even riots — better reflect the efforts of political parties to drum up local enthusiasm than a spontaneous outpouring of anger.

Along with the anti-US protests in Chennai and the anti-nuclear protests on the coast that I mentioned yesterday, there's more "rage" in Tamil Nadu -- this time over a planned visit from Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse. Apparently, Indian Tamils have not forgotten the massive casualities that resulted from his decision to shell the civilian population as part of a no-holds-barred push for an end to Sri Lanka's long civil war.

"Shouting slogans against Rajapakse, Vijayaraj, an unmarried autodriver of Nethimedu, doused himself with petrol and set himself afire at the old bus stand early this morning, shocking the waiting passengers [in Salem, Tamil Nadu]," the Press Trust of India reports.

The man was protesting Rajapakse's visit to Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh this week to lay the foundation stone for an International Buddhist University, the agency said.

Naturally, Tamil Nadu political parties have protest plans, including a black flag demonstration.

In other news, there's a "new twist" to the riots outside New Delhi -- which I presented as evidence showing the Indian administration faces a lot more problems than the American consulate -- according to the Indian Express. While police have filed criminal cases against some 4,000-5,000 people "under at least 14 stringent sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and other provisions of Criminal Law Amendment Act and Damage to Public Property Act, according to the HT, the Express writes that the man who filed the original police complaint that started the riot, about the alleged desecration of the Koran, has now disavowed the act.

"Abdul Qadir, the muezzin of the local mosque, said Monday that contrary to what the FIR says, he had not seen the torn pages from the Quran being thrown from a train at Adhyatmik Nagar station on Friday afternoon," the Express reports.

"The man who actually wrote the complaint at the police station was Zalil-ur-Rehman, a neighbour, Qadir said. It was written in Hindi, a language Qadir cannot read or write, and it was read back to him, Qadir said — only what was read to him wasn’t what actually appeared in the FIR." 

"Several theories are being propounded about the pages," the HT writes. "Intelligence sources said the pages 'seemed planted' to create enmity between two communities."

"Many also believe that the violence could have been a 'planned diversionary tactic' to buy time and avert attention from notices sent to the meat-processing units by the state pollution control board recently. Sources also hinted at the involvement of local residents," the paper said.

Six people were killed in police firing to control the mob, who had trapped some 25 people in the Ghaziabad police station after attempting to set them on fire, the HT reported, citing police sources. Meanwhile, "the families of the policemen who live in the nearly 25-30 homes of the Masuri police colony said that rioters had begun targeting their children after setting the police barracks on fire and no one had come to their aid," the paper said.

"We had to hide our children inside the boxes and even beneath the bed to save their lives," the paper quoted one of the residents as saying.

The lesson here? Life can, indeed, be dangerous in Protest Nation. But the "rage" rarely has much to do with America.