Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clean chit to the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh and the strong defence of the police there sound very insensitive in the face of continuing and credible reports of the disproportionate use of force and the atrocities committed on protesters in the state. Many parts of UP have witnessed protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens. The UP government has adopted a harsh and vengeful attitude to the protesters, and the police have conducted itself accordingly. Most protests across the country have been peaceful, but there was violence in some areas in UP. Some 20 deaths have been reported so far in the state. Hundreds of people have been injured. Most deaths were due to bullet injuries, though the police initially denied any firing. It had to admit to firing after pictures of policemen shooting protesters came into the public domain.
The policemen went on a rampage in most places and behaved like an unruly mob. They resorted to excessive violence, shot and beat up protesters and returned to some areas long after the protests and vandalised shops and vehicles. They also entered homes, smashed up things and attacked children and elderly people. Most victims were Muslims and the police action taken on a clearly communal colour, and there are reports of policemen shouting Jai Shri Ram when they were in action. The Adityanath government fully backed the wayward police. Thousands of people, including human rights activists, were detained, and restrictive measures like Section 144 and curbs on the internet were imposed. The chief minister said that the state would exact revenge from troublemakers and confiscate their property. It has actually done that in some cases. The conduct of the police is no surprise because Adityanath has in the past also given licence to the police to act wantonly without regard for the law and due process.
That is not how protests should be dealt with in a democracy. Violence and destruction of property cannot be condoned, but a government’s response to it should not be brutish and lawless. It is wrong on the part of an administration and law enforcement machinery to dub protests as riots and unleashes violence and brutality on the people. It is worse when the Prime Minister gives a certificate of good performance to such a government and a rogue force and in the same breath chooses to remind people of their duties. That amounts to justifying the atrocities and brutalities committed by the police. The right to dissent and protest is part of the citizens’ freedom of expression in a democracy and it should be respected. To talk about the duties of people without respecting their rights is being authoritarian.