Lahore is a vibrant city and a hub of country’s politics and social movements many of which are known to start from here. Of course, they gradually spread to other parts of the country. Different political parties have chosen this very city for a show of strength and street power.
Besides, the country’s religious parties, civil society organisations, the legal fraternity, doctors, paramedics, traders and others have been mostly active here. They have launched their protests from here and got their demands registered with the powers that matter.
Lahore did not assume this ‘importance’ recently. In fact, it remained the preferred location for public demonstrations during the Pakistan Movement. The legacy was passed on to the following generations who kept the tradition alive.
Every other day, you see a congregation, a protest demonstration or something, causing massive traffic jams and disrupting the routine life of the city.
Historically, these protests have mostly remained confined to select locations such as Muslim Masjid (in Lohari), Mochi Gate Park, Bhati Chowk, Nasir Bagh, Regal Chowk, Chairing Cross and the Governor’s House. But over the past few years, many new locations have emerged as preferred points for public protests. The most prominent of these include Lalik Chowk in DHA, Liberty Roundabout, 180-H, Model Town, Babu Sabu and Thokar Niaz Baig.
Different groups select these locations depending on the nature of the protests or demonstrations, their message, the class that is going to participate in them, and the target audience. The organisers who regularly plan demonstrations at these locations explain what makes them suitable for the purpose.
Abdullah Malik, President, Civil Society Network Pakistan (CSNP), states that the location is not as big an issue as it was in the past. Previously, he says, protests were held right in the city centre and outside of places such as the Punjab Assembly or the Governor’s House in order to bring them to the notice of the rulers. The protesters tried their best to disrupt traffic and create nuisance in order to be taken seriously.
According to Malik, with the phenomenal increase in the outreach of the mass media, the trend has changed and locations such as the Liberty Roundabout have gained prominence.
The Liberty Roundabout came into limelight when a monument was built in the honour of the martyrs who had lost their lives in the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team. People turned in thousands to lay floral wreaths here.
“When former governor Salman Taseer was assassinated, we held a vigil here,” he recalls. “At that time, we decided we would hold vigils on every death anniversary of his.”
Malik also says that when a properly planned protest is held, the media turns up, no matter how far the location is. But if they have to hold a demo rather abruptly, they prefer the space outside the Lahore Press Club (LPC) where media personnel are present already.
Malik identifies a major concern in finalising the protest points — the security of the participants. Some of the newly developed points are more secure and have CCTV cameras installed around them.
There are protest points that suit a particular group or a class. Lalik Chowk is one such point that suits the supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI), as per Tanvir Shahzad, a media strategist.
Shahzad says this Chowk was most accessible to the “direct affectees of the alleged rigging in the NA-125 constituency.”
As the PTI protest continued on for several days, people found it easier to go there and return at their will. For many, it was located at a walking distance. In short, as Shahzad points out, people now prefer to stay in their comfort zones as the message is conveyed to the larger audience through media anyway.
He says that earlier protests were shows of aggressive street power but now they have become softer and also more glamourous. One often finds young girls with their faces painted, dancing to the beat of the music playing on the occasion.
“Protests of this nature cannot be held at locations in the city centre which are relatively less secure,” he adds. “DHA and Gulberg are safer and more convenient locations for media also. The number of protests outside 180-H Model Town (the past residence of the Sharifs and the current party office of the PML-N) are also increasing by the day.
Babu Sabu, adjacent to Multan Road, and Youhanabad on Ferozepur Rd, are two points that are fast becoming popular among protestors. Babu Sabu is a strategic location as a protest here means blocking the entry into and exit from the Motorway. Whenever there is a protest or a sit-in, it is ensured that the Motorway entry point at Thokar Niaz Baig is also blocked.
Similarly, Youhanabad is an important location where the Christian minority community is based in large numbers. The locals come out in case there is an excess against their community and hold protests here. The CM’s much-loved Metro Bus also plies on this road, which is why the government often resorts to force to dispel the crowd protesting at this point.
Salman Abid, a political analyst, says it is quite interesting that political parties have decentralised their protests and they now ask their followers to hold these at points convenient for them. For example, he says, the PTI allows its followers to hold protests in their vicinity. It is quite common that this party’s protests are organised in Shahdara, DHA, Township, Thokar Niaz Beg and other places at the same time. This causes greater nuisance as commuters find every other route blocked due to protests at multiple locations.
Abid says that a new trend is that whole families, including women and children, participate in protests which are peaceful and not intended to disrupt the traffic or cause nuisance of any type. The placards and slogans are planned in such a way that they attract public attention.
In this day and age of internet, it has become difficult for anybody to black out information. Hence, if the conventional media is absent, the social media carries the coverage of these events which often gets viral.