With the ongoing CAA protests, Delhi, along with the rest of the country, is voicing its concern. But the imposition of Section 144 was unprecedented. Here is the CAA protest from the view of a political analyst who has been a close part of various protests that changed India and galvanised people against injustice.
By: Deexa Khanduri | Political Analyst and Freelance Journalist
Raised and studied in Delhi. Now, I work here too. As a student, I was part of many protests and demonstrations which took place on the streets of the National Capital over the years. I designed many placards. We were never stopped from raising the slogans.
At many occasions, we raised the voice against the government too. Now, as a journalist, I covered many protests across the city. A few of them were against China by Bhutanese living at Majnu ka Tilla. Rohingya Muslims were protesting against the Myanmar government. The protest against North Korea, Pakistan, and countless more. Not just international outcry, but the farmers protest at Jantar Mantar, and the one rank one pension (OROP) by ex-servicemen, NREGA, Aadhaar money bill, transgender bill. The list is a never-ending one.
Two of the most memorable protest of the Delhi – Anna Hazare hunger strike led by ‘India Against Corruption’ at Ramlila Maidan for Lokpal Bill in 2011, and Nirbhaya protest in 2012, remain in the memory of the nation even after so many years.
The Ongoing CAA Protest: Peaceful, Legal and Within the Constitution
However, on Thursday too, students along with many senior activists took to the street of the walled city, demonstrating against CAA. Police detained many activists like Harsh Mander and Medha Patkar, Yogendra Yadav, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, acclaimed historian Ramchandra Guha (in Bangalore) and also a brilliant professor like Dr. Ira Jha along with thousands of others.
Furthermore, in Delhi at Mandi House, Delhi Police also detained Former MPs Sitaram Yechuri, D Raja and Brinda Karat.
The protest took place not just in Delhi or in metropolitan cities but also in smaller cities like Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Kolkata, Bhopal, Bihar and Kerala. The protests that fired up the nation’s thoughts were majorly peaceful. Only with the exception of some places, like Bengaluru and Lucknow, on Thursday witnessed a few incidents of violence.
Moreover, the protests were in accordance with the constitutionally guaranteed right of the citizens within the Indian democratic framework. The counterpart response, i.e., the government should have been peaceful and must have tried to initiate the dialogue with the protestors. Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) protest has no face. The protests are being led by youth, and until a few nefarious elements turn up, it’s always peaceful.
But, unlike the old protests that the country has witnessed, this time the gates for dialogue are completely closed. I still remember the cold night of 16 December 2012, when many people gathered at India and held a demonstration against Nirbhaya’s accused, the Congress government, and the Delhi Police. Seeing the tense situation, Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the protestors at India Gate at midnight hours. She assured that the government stands with them.
Nevertheless, this time neither the protestors were allowed to gather near India Gate, nor the government felt the need to initiate dialogue with them. Even during Anna Hazare or OROP, the ruling party sent its representative to hold a conversation. This time, the government divided everything on the lines of secularism by destroying it completely.
Never Witnessed Before: Internet Shutdown and use of Tear Gas
With the CAA protest, many unlikely mishaps occurred. Sadly, the government could have easily avoided these mishaps. As a citizen and a part of the protest, I condemn the attack on public transport. Moreover, police investigation proved that there was no involvement of students in the violence.
Unlike, any previous protest, what happened on Thursday was something Delhi had never witnessed before.
Internet was shutdown in Delhi for the first time, more than 500 tear gas shells fired within three days, students detained for a peaceful demonstration. And worse, police entered Jamia Millia Islamia University Girl’s hostel and the library to attack innocent students who were studying for their exams.
Furthermore, the entering of the police at the varsity campus without notice raises many severe questions on the law and order of the city. The same law and order that comes directly under Union Home Minister, Amit Shah. Most importantly, who gave the order and freehand to the police? Why do the police authorities have no guilt about the incident? Forget apologies, so far, the government has not even initiated an enquiry against the police action. Why is the government’s role not more than that of a mute spectator?
Let us not forget that the police’s duty is to maintain law and order. When no violence was reported inside the varsity, why did the police enter the campus unlawfully?
Over Preparation or a Tool to Tone Down Voices?
I do not remember when was the last time the internet was shutdown in Delhi on account of protests. Never, in my memories did that ever happen. Hundreds of delegate visit the national capital daily. On Thursday too, when internet shutdown took place, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was hosting his Portuguese counterpart, Antonio Costa.
On Friday, like Thursday, the government has imposed Section 144 in many parts of the country. This prohibits a gathering of more than four individuals at a public place and is imposed across Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka. So, basically, majorly in the states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is not yet clear what led the Union Government to impose Section 144 even before the protest erupted.
What was the need to block mobile services, place barricades on the border, restrict entry causing massive traffic jams, and closing down metro stations? Did IB or CBI alert the ministry about any possible threats? No answer!
However, Thursday’s protest was legally under constitutional boundaries, and demonstrators did not attack anybody’s fundamental right. Then, why did the Union Home Ministry take so many precautionary steps? Not only this but the protest was also held in West Bengal, Mumbai and Pune too. West Bengal and Maharashtra are both non-BJP-ruled states. The government of these states did not impose section 144, and the protest carried on peacefully.
As the history shows that and our leaders like Mahatama Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru and Jayprakash Narayan’s experience tells us, dissent cannot sustainably be contained by simple deploying of a greater force.
Blocking the internet may mute social media, but not the people’s voice.
The ruling government needs to change its attitude. And, even if they decide to not take back the bill, at least they should send it to the standing committee of which the opposition leaders are also part. As said by Albert Camus, democracy is not the law of the majority but the protection of the minority.