“Our democracy will not sustain if we can’t guarantee freedom of speech and expression,” PM Narendra Modi said in June 2014. But the recent police action against protestors showcases that in India what you preach is not what you practice.
Our country is currently being rocked by protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in various places. Although there exist divided views on the issue, the major concern that has arisen is the importance of expressing dissent in a democracy and the biased stance of the police in the matter.
Dissent can be defined as non-agreement with an idea, policy or entity. Democracy sustains and strengthens because of its ideals as well as voicing the collective will and diversity in views. It is only through acts of dissent that we can truly assess the efficacy of a democratic system. But in recent times, any kind of objection to the current government or its policies are blatantly termed as ‘Anti-national and seditious’ by the government, members of the ruling party and some other organisations. A large number of people who have criticised the government policies or even Modi, have either been arrested or brutally trolled on various social media platforms. Student protests against CAA – NRC have been ridiculed as immaturity and propaganda of the opposition. In places like Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Assam, etc. non-violent protests have been aggressively curbed using police force.
The matter in question is not whether these policies and decisions are worthwhile, but the growing intolerance towards any form of opposition or disagreement to the popular decision and the police using its powers in a prejudiced manner. Scores of images, videos and other evidence have come up that have questioned the integrity of ‘kanoon ke rakhwale (Law Keepers)’. Victims of police brutality have shared horrific accounts of how they were detained on falsified charges, abused and even labelled as ‘Pakistanis’. This clampdown on civil society activists and critical minds is not a recent phenomenon. For instance, in the Bhima-Koregaon case of 2018, activists speculated to have Maoist links were arrested. Later, a fact-finding committee found that Hindu extremist groups planned Bhima-Koregaon riots, but the police targeted the activists due to pressure from the state government to protect the perpetrators. The recent transfer of the case to NIA by the Home Ministry raises further questions. Same accusations have been levied during CAA protests as the police raised their lathis and guns against some groups of protestors only. Hostility of the police is often justified on the grounds of maintaining peace and unity and colonial era laws of sedition and criminal defamation are used as crutches to support the lies. This rampant silencing by police is worrying and aggravates dubiety – whether the scales of justice always favour the privileged and the majority.
Nurturing dogma, which restraints criticism and disapproval, will surely befall great doom upon our country. With increasing education and awareness, the police cannot act as bigoted individuals, launch a ‘witch – hunt’ on a sectarian basis and then expect the people to stay mum.
A democracy is prosperous when it comprises active citizens who dissent against the unjust and express their devotion and respect towards its ideals through nonviolent means and in turn, the government and its agencies too welcome their revolutionary views. That is when we become truly free and enjoy the true essence of our existence as a human.
‘The Constitution gives us a voice
to raise against any unjust.
But they try to steal our choice
and tell us, to their whims we must adjust.
No longer will we be played as toys
cos it’s time to rise and voice our dissent.’
Image Credits: Manav Ahuja and Jassman for DU Beat