By Preetika Bhateja:
“RightsÂ aren’tÂ ‘rights’ if someone can take them away; they’re privileges.”
– George Carlin
“Kya karein, yahan VIP aate hai” was the response when a student from JNU protesting for compensation for innocents acquitted by the Supreme Court in the Akshardham case asked a police officer why the students couldn’t protest outside Gujarat Bhawan. The students were then held up and taken to Jantar Mantar instead. Also, after their protest, the police feared the students might go back to Gujarat Bhawan, so they were ‘guided’ to JNU.
This little piece of news bought back memories of all the previous protests that had succumbed under the imposition of section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure like the Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement against UPA, Baba Ramdev’s protest at Ramlila Maidan (which was the most affected by section 144) and Arvind Kejriwal’s protest against Delhi Police, among others. Maybe Lutyens’ Delhi is not ready to be moved by the nuanced placards and young students demanding answers and making the government realize that it is accountable.
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure forbids unlawful assembly. It states that if a person is part of the unlawful assembly and carries a deadly weapon, he/she shall be punished with imprisonment up to two years. Why is section 144 being deployed unnecessarily? Delhi High Court gave a judgement criticizing Delhi Police of repetitive use of section 144, which violates the fundamental right to protest in a democracy. It should only be deployed when it’s actually needed, like during the Tamil Nadu election for keeping a tab on cash for votes, Ghaziabad elections to prevent communal violence or Mr Modi’s swearing in ceremony. But why curb the public outcry?
Are we being bullied into silence? Is this all an attempt to convince us to give up and fade into darkness without a fight? Heckler’s veto? Is it a conscious step to block our freedom of expression? Intimidation and blackmailing is being used to suppress our rights, like rounds of tears gas and water cannons bombarded on women, students spending chilly nights in open taken into custody and metro stations being closed by DMRC making it difficult for protesters to commute. PIL’s have been filed against random use of section 144 but no stringent action has come out of it. Our Constitution too mentions that only if ‘public order’ is under threat can freedom of expression be ‘reasonably’ restricted. Well, how exactly is law and order disrupted by a candle light march or a peaceful dharna? It seems that state bhawans too are out of reach. Gradually, a lot of places in Delhi are being formed into a part of Delhi that doesn’t belong to its citizens and is insensitive towards their plight. Any assembly that even tries to protest at India Gate or walk up to the Risaina Hills are thwarted and ordered to protest at Jantar Mantar or Ramlila Maidan. The government is obtrusively making India Gate a place to just go for picnics and late night ice creams and not for the ‘privilege’ of protesting.