CAA protests: Wrong, Bengaluru Police

The Bengaluru police acted in a wholly undemocratic and authoritarian manner by preventing a group of college students from holding a peaceful protest against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act and even detaining some of them without any provocation. While the police contend that the requisite permission was not granted for the protest, the students argue that there was no prohibitory order like Section 144 in force to prevent a group of people from assembling peacefully. What is more shocking is Bengaluru police commissioner Bhaskar Rao’s statement that he had no intention of granting permission to hold anti-CAA protests, saying that the “problems of other places should not be imported to the city.” Rao has asserted that it is his duty to ensure that the city runs peacefully as Bengaluru is the destination of choice for business, education and investment. The commissioner’s assertion is flawed because while it is his duty to maintain law and order in the city, it is every citizen’s constitutional right to protest against what she sees as unjust or unconstitutional. It is strange that Rao did not extend his logic to another rally that took place in the city on Wednesday in support of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Such selective application of one’s sense of duty may give rise to suspicion that the police is acting as per the convenience of the ruling BJP.

Though subject to certain reasonable restrictions, the right to protest is recognised by the United Nations as a basic human right. The State cannot interfere with the right to protest just because it does not agree with the view of the protesters. In fact, the UN Human Rights Commission has even passed a resolution underscoring that States cannot frustrate people’s right to take to the streets by blocking access to the internet or websites. The role of the police is not to stifle voices that are not convenient to the government, but to ensure that the protests are held peacefully. Even the Supreme Court has held that “The right to protest is crucial since it strengthens representative democracy by enabling direct participation in public affairs where individuals and groups are able to express dissent and grievances, expose flaws in governance and demand accountability from State authorities as well as powerful entities.”

Student movements have changed the course of history across the world and in India, where it has roots in the freedom struggle. The police would be well advised not to stoke fire by displaying highhandedness against them. It should not underestimate the power of the youth. 

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