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Dissent is a sentiment or philosophy of non-agreement or opposition to a prevailing idea (e.g., a government’s policies) or an entity (e.g., an individual or political party which supports such policies). Dissenting voices play an important role in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural life of a society. They inspire changes, help protect the human rights, help create a society where citizens are informed and engaged.
Dissenting voices, especially those arising from social movements and non-violent protest forms strengthen representative democracy and enable direct participation of citizens in public affairs. They help expose the flaws in governance, help rectify them and demand accountability from authorities.
In many political systems, dissent is allowed to be formally expressed by way of opposition politics, through formation of social movements, trade unions etc. Yet, historically governments around the world regularly treat dissenting voices as a nuisance, threat or inconvenience and often tend to suppress them with violent forces to avoid accountability and responsible governance. Such acts often violate several human rights.
Many politically repressive regimes may prohibit any form of dissent, leading to suppression of dissent and the encouragement of social or political activism. Countries like China where dissenting voices are severely suppressed by using state police and military forces. However, dissent has always been part of Indian culture is dotted with innumerable instances where dissenting voices were accepted and changes brought in. and history and it is not really possible to trace when the first recorded dissent took place.
Individuals who do not conform or support the policies of certain states are known as “dissidents”. Several thinkers have argued that a healthy society needs not only to protect, but also to encourage dissent.
The main objective of documenting the diverse dissenting voices in India is to enrich the culture of dissent and enable researchers, scholars and movement groups share the immense heritage of dissent. In other words the chief purpose of this exercise as Prof. Amartya Sen puts it “to remove the unfreedoms showered on us by our rulers.”
To quote Prof. Sen again, “the silencing of dissent, and the generating of fear in the minds of people violate the demands of personal liberty, but also make it very much harder to have a dialogue-based democratic society.” Documenting the immense diversity of these dissenting voices is one of the ways to encourage the idea of “dialogue-based democracy” in India.
Some of the most important dissenting voices in India that have happened over the last several centuries have been classified into the following themes: