By Anurag Bhaskar:
A few days ago, a video that shows Delhi Police personnel and a few unidentified men in plain clothes beating students went viral on social media. The students were protesting outside the RSS headquarters in Jhandewalan over Hyderabad Univesity’s Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide.
Students were caned, hit on their heads, dragged by their hair and slammed on the ground during the demonstration. The brutality of police is there for all to see in the video. It was alleged by the students that the policemen did not discriminate between male and female protesters, as they whirled their lathis and hit them. One of the students present there pointed out the absence of female police officers during the ‘lathicharge’.
However, the Delhi Police blamed the students by saying that it was they who were provoked by the students. Delhi Police Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Paramaditya claimed that the protestors had broken barricades, and threw sticks while charging at the cops. To quote him, “it was protesters who provoked first. They threw banners and sticks at us. They broke the first barricade. Then they charged towards the second layer of barricade where max force was deployed.”
The Delhi Police also refused to confirm whether women protesters were beaten up. Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi defended his force by saying that the protesters “may have provoked” them. He also tweeted, “Right to protest coexists with what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr said — the right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
In the video, it can be seen how the Delhi Police allowed some men in plainclothes, alleged to be RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) workers, to assault the protesting students. Some videos were circulated on social media which showed students abusing the policemen, the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, two journalists who were covering the protest outside the RSS office at that time alleged that they were also beaten up and their cameras smashed. They claimed that the action of the police was “unprovoked.”
Even though Delhi Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung has ordered an enquiry and promised that action would be taken against the defaulters, the act is undeniably shameful.
The Indian Constitution spells out the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). It also provides the right to assemble peacefully and without arms to every citizen of the country under Article 19(1)(b).
In Re-Ramlila Maidan Incident vs. Home Secretary ( (2012) 5 SCC 1), the Supreme Court of India had said:
“The framers of our Constitution, in unambiguous terms, granted the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to assemble peaceably and without arms.”
This gives to the citizens of this country a very valuable right, which is the essence of any democratic system. There could be no expression without these rights. Liberty of thought enables liberty of expression. Belief occupies a place higher than thought and expression. Belief of people rests on liberty of thought and expression. Placed as the three angles of a triangle, thought and expression would occupy the two corner angles on the baseline while belief would have to be placed at the upper angle.”
The apex court further said:
“Freedom of speech, right to assemble and demonstrate by holding dharnas and peaceful agitations are the basic features of a democratic system. The people of a democratic country like ours have a right to raise their voice against the decisions and actions of the Government or even to express their resentment over the actions of the Government on any subject of social or national importance. The Government has to respect and, in fact, encourage [the] exercise of such rights. It is the abundant duty of the State to aid the exercise of the right to freedom of speech as understood in its comprehensive sense and not to throttle or frustrate the exercise of such rights by exercising its executive or legislative powers and passing orders or taking action in that direction in the name of reasonable restrictions. The preventive steps should be founded on actual and prominent threat endangering public order and tranquility, as it may disturb the social order. This delegate power vested in the State has to be exercised with great caution and free from arbitrariness. It must serve the ends of the constitutional rights rather than to subvert them.”
One of the observations of the Supreme Court was that “the primary task of the State is to provide security to all citizens without violating human dignity. Powers conferred upon the statutory authorities have to be, perforce, admitted. Nonetheless, the very essence of constitutionalism is also that no organ of the State may arrogate to itself powers beyond what is specified in the Constitution.”
Therefore, it can be safely said that the freedom to protest while holding peaceful demonstrations is a part of Indian democracy and also a feature of Indian constitutionalism.
At this moment, when a section of people might be defending the barbaric act of the Delhi police and the unidentified goons, we must remember and follow what the greatest dissident of Indian politics, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, had done way back in 1954.
In 1954, Dr. Lohia’s PSP (Praja Socialist Party) formed the government in Travancore-Cochin. PT Pillai became the Chief Minister.
Once, when Lohia was in jail, the Pillai government in one incident fired at unarmed workers in which eight were injured and seven died. The news of the incident infuriated Lohia because the firing was not only a humanitarian issue but was also a matter of propriety in a democratic system. Lohia asked the CM to resign. But Pillai rejected Lohia’s suggestion. In protest, Lohia resigned from the post of general secretary as well as from membership in the party executive.
In his resignation letter Lohia wrote, “all those who say I was ignorant about the circumstances are unprincipled hypocrites and hungry for power. It is also said that the rioters were either communists or communist-inspired but whether the demonstrators were Communists or Congressmen, is not the issue at all. The question is whether there was a real danger of armed resistance and deliberate murder or not.”
Immediately after his release, Lohia made his position public. He said, “human life has no value in India! I don’t understand whether its population is human or animal. The caste system is the root cause of the problem. Untouchables are not recognized as human beings. Legal murder is called punishment by hanging which is based on the brutal principle of life for life. It can be possible that we will take twenty years to solve the problem of food and water for all people but respect for human life can be established right away.”
Hon’ble Vice-President of India, Dr. Hamid Ansari, while delivering Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Memorial Lecture – 2015, quoted Dr. Lohia’s assertion that “the concept of civil liberties defines state authority within clear limits. The task of the State is to protect these liberties. But States usually do not like the task and act contrarily. Armed with the concept of civil liberties, the people develop an agitation to force the State to keep within clear and well defined limits.”
The citizens of India have a right to hold an opinion and no brutal action should be allowed to stop them. There was no “real danger of armed resistance and deliberate murder” by the students. The right to dissent and protest has to be taken seriously. The brutality of the Delhi police and the “unknown” goons has to be condemned by all sides. To save Indian democracy, we need more Dr. Ram Manohar Lohias at present.