Do we have the right to a peaceful protest?: Warisha Farasat
Guest post by WARISHA FARASAT, who was present at the peaceful Jantar Mantar protest against the execution of Afzal Guru
We have been finally denied even the basic right to a peaceful protest. Two incidents over the last week have proven that only the right wing Hindutva groups have the right to protest in this country; the unbridled right to disrupt all other peaceful protests; and to ensure that the civil liberties groups are pushed even further against the wall. Two days ago, a peaceful student protest against Narendra Modi’s speech at Delhi University was met with brutal response, which has been reported extensively. Today, as Shuddhabrata Sengupta has poignantly pointed in his earlier post there were peaceful silent protests against the secretive hanging of Afzal Guru, and also for the abolition of the death penalty from the criminal statute books at Jantar Mantar. But what unraveled thereafter was shameful. The police watched and participated while young and brave University students, several of them Kashmiri, were beaten up. I saw young women with scarves, which were seen as a marker of their identity being targeted, groped, beaten, humiliated, abused, and finally arrested. Other respected civil liberties activists, lawyers, and even journalists were abused, kicked, beaten, and their faces blackened.
Perhaps it is time that we surrender all our fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution since nothing seems to matter any more. Let us voluntarily surrender these rights as the state institutions, and the police are not interested or inclined in protecting peaceful young students or civil society activists, lawyers, journalists or anyone anymore. I was trained in the law. Over the years, I have unpacked facts and evidence, read legal judgments, and tried to understand the justice delivery system.
But, today I do not want to write a long legalistic piece that I usually do because I am so deeply disgusted at how the protestors were treated; and at our “collective helplessness” to do anything about the encouragement provided by the police to the Hindutva right wing assaulters. There are reams and reams of independent citizens inquiries, judges, international and national human rights group reports on the impact of militarization and the deeply entrenched impunity over the past two decades of conflict in Kashmir, if anyone is bothered to read them. Does the rule of law operate in Kashmir?
Can the rule of law framework be selectively used in certain situations and not in others? I came back home to frenetic anchors and discussants on news channels (that have incidentally all been blocked in Kashmir that is under curfew) screaming how the rule of law finally triumphed with Afzal’ s hanging. In fact, the rule of law was deeply wounded not only by the manner of this secretive hanging, but also because individuals were denied their right to protest peacefully. Is there no right to peacefully disagree with the decision of the Supreme Court or with the use of death penalty in India?
I can switch off the TV set but somehow I cannot find a way to turn off the images of the protestors being brutalized and humiliated at Jantar Mantar today.