Aruna Roy Speaks on Managing Dissent

Activist defends dissent as essential element of democratic societies

Aruna Roy argues for managed, nuanced dissent as a necessary part of any democratic society, particularly one as big and pluralistic as India, in New Delhi on Jan. 13, 2012. (5 min., 16 sec.)

NEW DELHI, January 13, 2012 — Over the past 10 months, India has witnessed a series of movements for change that have highlighted the importance of how dissent is expressed and received in democracies.

Aruna Roy — political and social activist, Member of the National Advisory Council, and a founder of the movement for Right to Information in India — explored this phenomenon at an Asia Society India Centre programme here where she was joined in conversation by Manu Joseph, Editor of Open magazine.

Roy lamented that dissent in India has come to be reduced to simplistic "with us or against us" positions, and as a negative phenomenon. In a democracy, she said, it is imperative that we recognize that there can be different degrees of dissent and dissent against different aspects of movements — from their methods to their purpose — and that we must recognize nuances within dissent.

Roy explained that dissent is a crucial aspect of any democracy, and we must create formal platforms through which opinions and positions can be expressed without immediate suspicions being cast on intent and without broader threats to one's reputation or safety.

She emphasized the importance of transparency in the legislative process, of preserving the systems of democracy and accountability, and of having the humility to understand that other views and variables can be important factors in affecting socio-political change. Such movements, Roy said, must be tethered to stated principals and must be "plural in their composition."

This programme was presented as part of the AsiaLive series in partnership with Open magazine and with Jamia Millia Islamia.

Click on the video link above for related comments from Manu Joseph.