Umar Khalid was arrested on September 13, 2020. We might as well add this date to the growing list of attacks on dissent. The problem an authoritarian regime faces in a democracy is dissent—it is difficult to curb it legally and is dangerous if left unintimidated.
No wonder Dr Kafeel Khan was arrested for months when he spoke out against the shortcomings of an Uttar Pradesh government-run hospital before the Allahabad High Court ordered his release after finding insufficient evidence in his arrest.
Prashant Bhushan was dragged to the courtrooms of the highest level of the judiciary when he Tweeted against it. Journalists are being intimidated, arrested, and even killed.
The Press Freedom Index indicates anything but the presence of democracy, and voila! The democratic index has never been lower. Welcome to the largest democracy in 2020.
The National Security Act (NSA) is problematic in its core and has been widely used by the authorities in an overreach of their executive powers. The Act allows for the imprisonment of an individual who can be a ‘threat’, to either national security or public order. The Act suspends important legal rights of the accused, including the right to a lawyer and being informed about the reason of arrest at the time of the arrest.
The Allahabad High Court studied Dr Khan’s speech in detail and declared the speech, the primary reason being used by the UP Police to hold Khan in custody, as an insufficient cause for arrest. The police not only refused to release him immediately but subsequently filed for further extensions.
Kangana Ranaut engaged in a public battle as she criticised the Mumbai police and local authorities, and the next thing we hear is of her office being demolished by the BMC. The High Court stalled the destruction by the BMC, and whether it was legal or not is a question that remains to be decided by the court. However, the timing of the destruction cannot leave any doubt as to its purpose.
Rhea Chakraborty was arrested, publicly harassed, her character ‘assassinated’ by national media, her family targeted and the only factual validated charge against her is the possession of weed. Bollywood and Indian youth in general, take note. Needless to say here that just years ago, when an actress left behind a note blaming her celebrity boyfriend for her suicide, media wasn’t as riled up as it is now. His selected photos in scantily-clad clothing weren’t being used to paint him as a characterless man.
They say it’s the 21st century, that sexism and patriarchy don’t exist anymore. I say no need to look for evidence any further. Head over to your news channels and find misogyny at its clearest display. They say the witch-hunt began with the arrest of Khalid, but it began long ago with the arrest of Miss Chakraborty. Our fourth pillar of democracy is falling and threatening to take democracy along with it.
Sharjeel Usmani, an AMU student was arrested for the anti-CAA protests and later granted bail by an Aligarh Sessions Court.
Upon his release, he made a very powerful statement in which he said (about his release), “I don’t see it as a legal victory for myself. Take the example of an innocent man walking on the streets. Somebody comes and puts a knife to his throat. After a while, the knife is removed and the man is asked to celebrate his newly found freedom. I can’t. They should apologise for putting a knife to the throat in the first place.”
Dissent is an important constituent of any democracy. It is what differentiates us from a dictatorship. The freedom to choose to disagree is the founding aspect of any democracy.
Umar Khalid, who was widely proclaimed for advocating for peaceful protests during the anti-CAA struggle, has been put under 10-day remand. Freedom to assemble, form unions and even protest are rights protected by the Constitution. Whether he was actually responsible for the violence at the protests remains to be decided in the ongoing investigation. But, if found innocent, who will apologise for putting the knife to the throat in the first place?