Protesting is a right, violence will have consequences

The Indian Constitution ‘s history is shaped by its struggle for independence, in which the seeds of a public political domain and a democratic Constitution were sown. The Indians struggled hard and long to voice their opinions on colonial policies and laws openly, to disagree with them, to shape their minds and form public opinion against them, to talk to and against the government, to challenge them. People not only signed written petitions but staged dharnas, organised large public meetings, nonviolent marches and demonstrations, and even initiated campaigns of civil disobedience in Gandhi’s satyagraha, for example.

As seen in the protests for the development of Andhra or the Chipko movement, protests have also given inclusion and participation points to voices that are not part of the mainstream. A cornerstone of Indian democracy is the freedom of people to protest. However, marches and protests sometimes take a violent turn while citizens should be allowed to peacefully assemble; recent examples are the Citizenship act, Muslim Women Protection Act, Kashmir protest related to Article 370 and Ram Mandir Judgement. All These four issues have invited protests.

There’s no denying the fact the people have the right to protest u/a 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b). But there’s also reasonable restrictions imposes on the article u/a 19(2) i.e. “Such fair restrictions shall be enforced in the interests of India ‘s sovereignty and dignity, of the protection of the State, of friendly ties with foreign States, of public order, of decency or morality, or of disrespect, defamation or incitement of an offence.”

“In Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union Of India & Ors. case (2012), the Supreme Court had stated, “Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest which cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action.”

“Violence as an instrument of protest has been sanctified, fanned and legitimised by yesterday’s politics to push for other issues as well. The agitation against the Mandal Commission in August 1990, was one such”.

Ever since independence in 1947, violence has followed protests. Overall, India has seen three kinds of abuse in separate permutations and combinations: communal, democratic and entitlements. In politics, the validity of violence has its origins. There appears to be an unwritten arrangement between political parties that allows for the venting of steam by encouraging the loss of government property such as buses or rails.

There may be larger consequences, more demonstrations, and a warning that the government will not provide people with the first aspect of governance, law and order, if personal property is lost. The cost of government property loss, on the other hand, is intangible. But in a resource-hungry nation like India, all such devastation has a direct impact on the manner in which taxes must be used to recover economic wealth. With much of India not paying direct taxes, it seems like a right to the economic consequences of such devastation. This entitlement was and is now being pushed to ridiculous heights. Take the ludicrous notion that the police are reluctant to reach universities.

There is no rule that forbids the police from accessing any campus whenever they need to, according to legal scholars. But we do not need a lawyer from the Supreme Court to tell us why. Under the statute, keeping stability and university campuses are not excluded is the responsibility of the police. They may be noisy, create ruckus, resort to violence, deface and destroy their campus. But they do not have immunity from law. At best, it is a privilege and a courtesy — not a right. It can be withdrawn.

The first job of any government is to establish the rule of law. This should preferably be done peacefully. But when required, the police should not be held back from exercising force.

 Parliament and the government (the police in particular), need to come up to task. Home Minister Amit Shah is on course. “When a protest becomes violent then it is the duty of the police to contain the violence, and they did so,” he said. As India heads into the next decade, all democratic institutions need to work together and ensure a zero-violence political atmosphere. On the other side, as in every democracy from the US and the UK to France and Italy, protests will continue. But protests are a democratic right, violence a crime.

India’s modern politics must recognise the new demands of quiet civilians for governance; the time to pander to the noisiest is over; the time to use gender, class , caste, status, faith to gloss over crimes is behind us; the time to use intimidation as a weapon to bend the state’s will has expired. As India steps into the next decade, let us do so with this dictum for protestors: violence has consequences.

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