Petition-ed Out

I got yet another petition today, requesting my support and signature for yet another cause. I deleted the mail without bothering to open it. This might make me insensitive and uncaring. 

I’ve signed at least 30 petitions since I got joined the petition-signing bandwagon. If I remember right, one of the earliest petitions I signed was led by a classmate who was trying to save trees or kittens or some such thing. It was a ragged piece of paper and she needed certain amount of signatures and in the weird idealism of youth, it made us feel like we were actually doing something.

That idealism continued and then I remember a petition to stop the killing of blue whales and dolphins in Japan, where the meat is considered a delicacy. Given the low numbers of these beings, the rest of the world felt that the Japs could go without their meat for a while. 

I felt strongly about the issue and proudly added my signature to the petition. I’ve no idea about the outcome. I vaguely remember reading that Japan continues to have the highest rate of whale hunting in any country, despite treaties being signed. Japan’s excuse to scientific research and they continue to eat the byproduct as well. 

Then came “save the tigers’ campaign. Tigers were low in numbers and we really needed to do something to save them. Our answer, probably spearheaded by a national TV channel or celebrity, was to sign a petition. 

And then there were petitions to stop the atrocities in the North East, for justice for someone, for better safety for women and the likes. 

Once you subscribe to a site, we somehow find it easier to delete the mail everyday instead of clicking on the ‘unsubscribe’ link. Belonging to this class, I continued to be flooded with mails about various causes. Every so often, I’d go back to check if any of the petitions had any positive results. 

Petitions, candle light vigils and flash mobs are the ‘status’ symbols of today’s intellectual elites. It always feels good to show a “I signed this petition” on Facebook, or take funky photographs at candle light vigils and post it on your Facebook page. Sometimes, like the Delhi march, some protests do have effects. But very rarely is there a positive effect of the petition signing and vigils. 

I remember the one and only protest I attended – it was near the Commissioner’s office and we were protesting against brutality against women. Some women had been chased out of a pub and beaten up by vigilantes. Filled with anger and angst, I made my way to the protest center. We stood there, chatting and laughing for about an hour, as the organizers ran around trying to keep us off the streets and on the pavement. Some people had posters and the rest of us stood mutely till the Commissioner’s car came by. He moved past without any hassle and went into his office and the rest of us went home, with a sense of satisfaction of having been a part of something and a larger sense of dissatisfaction that nothing really happened. 

My friends continue to argue that these petitions are required. I tried to research if a certain number of signatures on a petition actually have any legal impact, but could find no legal document to support my argument.

Why then do we insist on signing petitions? Has it become the equivalent of “Like This Photo If You Care” and “1 Like = 1 Salute” photographs that make rounds on Facebook. 

Digressing a little, in a recent photograph on 9Gag, one user took up the case of a photograph which compared a child with a horrible deformity to an female actor and said “Like You Think The Child Is As Beautiful As Her.” The user refused to like and support such an argument.

Such an act stresses on the fact that beauty is only physical and creates an idea in the mind of the child – who knows that she is no where as physically perfect – that she needs to have particular attributes to be ‘beautiful’. Her efforts and struggles against her disease, the courage are all belittled by a single photograph where she is compared to a movie star (with all her surgeries and botox) and said “she is a beautiful.” 

True, the intent of the photograph might be saying that the child’s strength makes her beautiful… but quite often, it is a shallow comparision of the two, designed to make others feel good about their righteousness.

Soldiers sacrifice their lives everyday for their country, children struggle with deadly diseases, animals are killed brutally – our liking the photograph does not really give any of their acts validation, nor is it required. Doing something off Facebook – now, that might help.

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