There is so much to be unhappy about what is happening in the country. However, at the same time, the vigorous manner in which the people express their keen interest in national issues and indulge in social activism makes one feel optimistic about the future. When a large number of people are deeply involved in public life, and ready to come out of their homes for a common cause, it is hard for anyone to keep them down for long. A distinctive aspect of contemporary Pakistan is that hardly a day passes without some kind of public protest, demonstration or rally over one or the other issue in any major city. It seems that every Pakistani is holding up a placard with some sort of complaint and demanding for his right. The bureau chief of a private news channel, in Lahore, told this scribe that his organisation receives several invitations from various protest groups for media coverage almost daily. The frequency of protests, mostly peaceful, and the variety of the issues involved are unprecedented. Until a few years ago, the protest meetings or rallies were a prerogative of the political parties or the religious right. The entry of affected individuals and small social groups in this arena is a recent phenomenon, and points to a vibrant civil society which makes its presence felt. For example, one sees Baloch families holding up banners and placards for the recovery of their missing relatives; people burning tyres and blocking roads against excessive power outages; power loom workers agitating against gas closures; farmers staging demonstrations against the non-availability of adequate irrigation water; flood victims agitating against insufficient assistance by the government; doctors demanding a pay raise; PIA employees campaigning against the administrations mismanagement; protest rallies taking to streets against police excesses; nurses shouting against sexual harassment by doctors; teachers raising slogans against the privatisation of their institutions; prisoners complaining about maladministration and the violation of their rights in jails - and the list goes on and on. Although protests are a sign of general discontent with the policies and actions of the government, and in some cases big businesses, they also indicate the peoples vigour and willingness to mount social action for their cause. The people are not content with the status quo. Therefore, the demonstrators believe that they may get some relief either by appealing to public opinion or drawing the attention of the authorities; they hope to achieve their objectives through a peaceful struggle. Indeed, the people of Pakistan have made the best use of their fundamental right the right to freedom of speech and expression. They have, in fact, proved that they are quite capable of defending their rights and interests within the constitutional means available to them. In recent times, the protesters have increasingly resorted to the tactic of blocking roads and highways, and by staging a sit-in or burning tyres on them, thus disrupting the flow of traffic. This mostly forces the administration to come down from their ivory towers and hold negotiations with the agitators. It seems to have become quite an effective tool to make the incumbent leadership to listen to the peoples voices and work in accordance with their wishes. A few decades ago, only political parties or big trade associations, use to call for a wheel-jam strike. But now aggrieved parties (no matter how small) are increasingly using this method, albeit on a smaller scale and for limited objectives. Although the closure of a busy road sometimes may lead to the use of force by the police, especially to disperse the mob, yet the protesters are ready to take the risk of being thrashed instead of staying silent. Also, it is heartening to note that during the last few years a majority of public meetings and rallies have concluded peacefully. However, there are some tragic incidents when the law enforcement agencies resorted to baton charge, aerial firing and tear gas at the unarmed protesters. Such incidences, like the Hazara movement in Abbottabad that led to the killing of four people, indicate that the government needs to devise and adopt an appropriate strategy in order to handle protest gatherings in a democratic and peaceful manner. There is a need to impart training to the police force, which should learn from the experiences of long established democratic societies. Nevertheless, the colonial way of a brutal crackdown on the protesting public must be replaced by restrained and civilised handling of the demonstrators. Moreover, the media coverage of demonstrations through the 24/7 private television broadcasts, which have seen phenomenal growth in the past one decade, has also given a fillip to the culture of public protests. These news channels, with their proverbial hungry servers seeking images and stories round the clock, have provided the public with an extraordinary opportunity to share their distress with a much wider audience - something that newspapers cannot do in a society with almost half of the population being illiterate. The freedom and growth of the electronic media has enabled the civil society to make itself heard in a more effective manner than before when only the state-controlled television channel existed. Similarly, the mass media has brought the civilian leadership under increasing pressure to listen to the dissident voices. There are several instances when the protest campaigns aired on the media have forced the government to change its policies. For example, the federal government surrendered to the demands of the PIA employees and removed the Managing Director; and the Punjab government introduced a Healthcare Bill to strictly regulate the private doctors practices following the protests held after the death of a minor girl due to the negligence of a doctor of a private hospital, in Lahore, in 2010. Needless to say, if the political parties and the incumbent leadership have the desire and time to monitor the mood of the masses, and learn lessons from their input, they can draw some useful inferences by analysing the growing protest culture across the country. First of all, this points towards the governments failure to address public issues on its own unless a large number of people force it to act, and that the channels of public policy and decision-making are either lacking in capacity or inefficient. By taking to the streets, different sections of the society challenge the lack of governance and the managerial crisis plaguing the country and affecting peoples lives. Another reason behind the almost daily public protests is the lackadaisical and indifferent attitude of the government officials towards public grievances. Undoubtedly, the bureaucratic machinery is anti-people. The people have little or no access to the senior functionaries in the government for the resolution of their complaints. The elected assemblies have not yet developed an institutional mechanism to interact with the civil society and the general public. There is no tradition of public hearings by the elected representatives. Important policy decisions are taken without consulting the stakeholders, thus leaving no room for the affected people, except to exploit nuisance value of the street and the mass media to highlight their concerns. Furthermore, the undemocratic organisational structures of the mainstream political parties, and their inability to imbibe the peoples voices in their priorities, have led to a vacuum, which is being filled up by the public protests and the mass media. However, in the long run, this spontaneously created mechanism can never be a substitute for the proper functioning of the political parties and the assemblies. Anyhow, in the transition phase, the protest meetings, like judicial activism in tandem with an activist media, have provided the catharsis to the aggrieved citizens and kept their hopes alive. The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: