A study showed that the non-violent resistance movements had a success rate of 53% –  twice as effective and likely to succeed as compared to their violent counterparts.

Written by: Namrata Sharma, Anushka Shah

Non-violent resistance movements hold peaceful civilian action at their heart and helm. Over time, hundreds of non-violent resistance techniques have been identified, a few of which are protests, demonstrations, boycotts, labor strikes, and non-cooperation. A study conducted by Erica Chenoweth et. al. on ‘Why Civil Resistance Works’ explored data on violent and non-violent resistance movements between 1900 and 2006, to understand the strategic effectiveness of these approaches in cases of conflict between state and civilians. The study showed that the non-violent resistance movements had a success rate of 53% –  twice as effective and likely to succeed as compared to their violent counterparts.

 

What is it that makes non-violent resistance movements twice as successful?

First, the size and diversity of a movement directly impacts its success in the long run. Research shows that non-violent resistance movements make people from diverse backgrounds feel more comfortable in joining the movement. This leads to widespread, large-scale participation as well as participation which is representative of society as a whole. Further, movements which are youth-led and women-led are far likelier to be non-violent in nature, and thus, more likely to succeed. The Chenoweth study of non-violent movements over time observed that when movements did achieve a large scale, if this resulted in 3.5% or more of that nation’s population participating, they almost always succeeded.

Second, sustaining a non-violent movement over time is necessary to bring about change. This requires rigorous offline planning, designing long-term implementation strategies and parameters to monitor progress. Most importantly, sustaining a movement requires that people continue to stay non-violent even when the state resorts to violence or pushes them towards violence. Resilience when faced with violence, thus, becomes an important factor in determining the outcome of a non-violent movement.

Third, protests and mass demonstrations while popular non-violent resistance mechanisms, when used in isolation reduce the odds of a movement being successful. A far more likely to succeed resistance movement is one which utilizes a combination of non-violent techniques in the form of both action or inaction. For example, combining protests with a labour strike is likely to be a more successful technique as it directly impacts the economy of a nation. Thus, research tells us, using a blend of different tactics which impact the regime in power are better at ensuring that a movement is not ignored by the state.

Finally, a key factor enabling the success of non-violent resistance movements lies in their ability to change the opinion of and garner support from an individual or a body which otherwise supports the state and whose cooperation the state relies upon in order to function. These individuals or bodies, such as security forces, civil servants, economic bodies etc., are imagined as “pillars of support” to the regime, and “shifting their loyalty” by means of non-violent resistance is crucial to the success of the overall movement. 

 

How do both, the pro or anti-CAA/NRC movements in India,  currently  perform against the above patterns?

Since December 2019, India has been witness to protests both against and for the government’s proposed implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in combination with the NRC (National Register of Citizens). The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, provides a means of obtaining Indian citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian religious minorities, who fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be a nationwide registry maintained by the Government of India for the purpose of mapping and identifying Indian citizens through the provision of certain key documents.

Citizen action in support of CAA/NRC began with protests in December 2019. These have since been limited with occasional protests in 2020 such as one in February in Hyderabad or this one in Boston organized by Indian-Americans. Activism around the movement prevails online in the form of social media posts or press articles outlining arguments in support of the act, while various members of the ruling government note the same in public statements and speeches. Elected members of the current administration have made statements that invoke violence, which prevent the pro-movement from being academically labelled non-violent.

The protests against CAA/NRC have been larger in scale and have sustained from December 2019 across various cities and towns in India. The majority of these have been student-led and women-led. The use of art and music has been central to action on the ground, and these offline activities have been accompanied by online momentum in the form of sharing information and explanations about CAA/NRC.

Similar to the pro-CAA/NRC groups, political leaders have made statements against the act. A shooting that took place during the protests has been accused of being orchestrated by a member of a political party in the opposition, however this has not yet been proven. On ground, organizers of the protests have maintained non-violent action, including in instances of violence by the police.

While it is not yet clear how the pro or anti-movement has been able to shift internal loyalties within those on the opposing side,  there have been requests in the city of New Delhi of residents asking anti-CAA/NRC protestors to not create inconveniences by blocking roads. Similarly, Anjana Om Kashyap (journalist with the Aaj Taj news channel known for her leaning towards the current administration)) and Murli Manohar Joshi (member of the ruling party) made comments against the act. Further, while there has been effort around legislative action and economic strikes beyond the protests on the anti side, how targeted or sustainable these are remains to be seen.

For any of the current movements, pro or anti CAA/NRC, it’s important for participants, organizers, and authorities to communicate and share concerns. Dialogue and negotiation between competing demands and incentives on all sides, for and against, is vital for an eventual resolution.

As part of a recent survey conducted by Civic Studios to better understand thoughts and demands of citizens both for and against CAA/NRC, citizens were asked to write-in any questions they may have for the government, the police, and anti or pro CAA-NRC groups. Data from 1500 respondents was included, and some of the key questions citizens had for the government, police, and both pro/anti CAA/NRC groups have been included below:

  • “Will all previous id proofs like passport, aadhar, pan card, voter card stand null and void?”
  • “How can we stop legitimizing police brutality?”
  • “If the government claims people opposing are misguided, then why doesn’t it send it’s representatives (or the Home Minister himself) to areas of protest such as Shaheen Bagh?”
  • “Why not focus on education people (about CAA-NRC) rather than protesting?”
  • “If CAA/NRC have not been implemented, why protest?”
  • “How can I as an NRI contribute to stopping the violence?”
  • “Want more information from policy makers instead of news channels, along with financial analysts of the implications of this act.”
  • “How are we supposed to continue to believe the police exist to protect citizens’ narrative?
  • “Who allowed the government to alter the constitution?”
  • “Why doesn’t the government give more press conferences and answer the questions from journalists?”