How to stay safe during protests
It is your constitutional right to protest. Just stay safe whilst you’re doing it.
India is being rocked by protests, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to stop any time soon. It’s perfectly fair to want to attend a protest or a demonstration, but it’s very important to remember to stay safe whilst you’re putting yourself on the line. Here are a few things to think about before you attend a protest.
First of all, nothing beats a good old-fashioned address book. I still maintain one with addresses and phone numbers that I want to save outside of my phone. Know that anything can happen at a protest, and there is no guarantee that you might always have your cell phone with you. You can always borrow someone else’s phone, but if you don’t have the numbers you need to call (especially if you’re like me and can’t remember everyone’s numbers off the top of your head) you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. So, before you head out there, write important numbers down on a piece of paper or an address book, and stash it in your backpack.
Don’t go alone
This is pretty basic, but seriously, don’t show up to a protest or a demonstration alone. Anything can happen, especially when you’re in the midst of a large crowd of people. It helps to know that there’s someone out there who has your back. In the event of an emergency, and you are separated from your friend, prearrange a meeting spot where you can both head to in order to meet back up with each other. Decide how you’ll get in touch with each other if you aren’t able to use your cell phones. If you’re going in a large group of people, set up a group chat on WhatsApp or a group text so that you can all easily communicate with each other. Another great way to get in touch with people and letting them know where you are is by sharing your GPS location with them. There are several amazing free apps out there (Glympse, which is free and is available to Android as well as IOS users, comes to mind) that help you do just that.
Packing your backpack
Make sure you choose a backpack, rucksack, or satchel that can close completely. Seriously, this stops you from worrying if your stuff is safe or not and lets you focus on the protest instead. Apart from your placard or sign, it’s important to carry a few important things in your backpack. Always take a bottle of water and a snack or two. Muesli bars or energy bars are great to have. As far as identification goes, make sure you have your university ID, Aadhaar card, driver’s licence, or pan card in your wallet. Don’t forget your debit and credit cards, but make sure you also carry some cash for an emergency. Don’t forget the address book or piece of paper with important phone numbers, and your cell phone. Ensure that your cell phone is fully charged, and carry an emergency power bank in case you need it. Finally, don’t forget that you’re likely to be out for several hours. Make sure to pack any personal hygiene articles that you may need, as well as wet wipes and a small first aid kit.
What to remember if you have a medical condition
Suffering from conditions like asthma or diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from living your life. Just remember to take your conditions into account when you’re heading out for the day. If you need a blood sugar thermometer, make sure to pack one. There are many articles out there that advise you about the right way to pack insulin for travel. An iced gel pack in an insulated bag seems to be the most suggested method to safely transport insulin. If you’re suffering from asthma, don’t forget your steroids and your other back up asthma medication, and a spare inhaler in case you’re going to be shouting or constantly on the move. If you suffer from allergies (especially dust allergies or anything that will be triggered by being outside and on the move), make sure to pack your EpiPen as well as your anti-allergens. If you need your mobility aid (wheelchairs, canes, or walkers) or if you’re going to be taking your baby to a protest (in which case you’d have a baby stroller), make sure you check with protest organisers as well as police stationed alongside the protest route if the path ahead will be smooth. Be open to taking an alternative route if you have to.
Coping with a crowd
Being in a crowd can become overwhelming fast. Personally, I don’t do well in crowds at all. My chest becomes constricted and I struggle not to have a panic attack. But I can be in a crowd of people (for example, at a concert) provided I can stay in the line of sight of an exit, or a way to move towards the outer edges of the crowd. That may not always be possible at a protest march, but it’s good to remember to move with the crowd as it moves. Hold someone else’s hand if you have to, and try to make your way to the periphery with every small step you take. Eventually, you’ll be on the outer edges and more in control of staying put if you need to.
Staying safe at the protest
Protests and demonstrations can be unpredictable; it’s the nature of the beast, unfortunately. Things can go from order to chaos in a matter of minutes, and when the cops get involved (as they have been doing, especially in Delhi) with trying to quell crowds with violence, nobody would blame you for wanting to get out of there fast. Don’t forget the following:
Do have a prearranged place to head to if things are getting out of hand. Make sure everyone in your group knows that they can go there to meet back up.
Do stay aware of your immediate surroundings. Are the protests progressing peacefully? Is the crowd feeling very congested? Is it time to start moving to the periphery? Are the police requesting you to move along or are they getting involved with violently trying to quash the protests?
Do leave the area if fellow protesters are getting out of hand or engaging in unlawful behaviour. You need to move away from situations like that where it could be misconstrued that you participated in rule-breaking and other illegal activities.
Do listen to protest organisers and law enforcement officers if they are asking you to disperse and move along.
Don’t resist arrest. Be aware that you could be arrested at a protest or a demonstration, and that’s part of the risk you’re taking if you’re going to go to one.
Don’t block other people or impede their movement or access in any way.
Don’t push, spit, kick, or incite others to commit acts of violence.
Do remain courteous and helpful and try to keep the demonstration safe for everyone.
Do offer help to people who may be vulnerable or who are facing a medical issue.
Remember, it is your constitutional right to protest. Just stay safe whilst you’re doing it.