Freedom to protest cannot be denied

A minor incident of protest by a student was made out to be a serious offence by the Tamil Nadu police when it arrested a slogan-shouting student at the Thoothukudi airport, took her to the police station and started legal proceedings against her. It is a sign of the times that any act of protest is looked at with disapproval and considered a criminal activity deserving of penal response. Lois Sophia, a young research student studying in Canada, was seated near Tamilisai Soundararajan, who is the president of the BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit, on a flight. The student shouted slogans against the “fascist BJP government” and was later involved in arguments at the airport. The Tamil Nadu police booked her, invoking stringent provisions of the law, disproportionate even to her alleged offence, and she was sent to judicial custody for 15 days. She has since been granted bail but the whole incident shows how the freedom to protest is frowned upon and sought to be suppressed. 

The student may have acted without decorum by shouting in a public place. Her act was an emotional outburst against the government. She expressed her views about the government and did not go any further than that. Whether spontaneous or pre-planned, every citizen has the right to express her views about the government and that should not invite police action. Soundararajan said that the student’s behaviour created the suspicion that she was a part of some organisation. The politician did not agree with the suggestion to ignore the incident and insisted that action should be taken against the student. The police complied with Soundararajan’s demand and, unfortunately, the magistrate did not think whether it was right to send a young student to jail for 15 days for acting in a way that offended a politician. 

Everyone in the country has the right to criticise the government or a political party. This is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution, and that freedom cannot be disallowed and taken away. The climate of intolerance that is growing in the country is making the exercise of that freedom increasingly difficult. Those who disagree and protest are being taken to jail, told to “go to Pakistan” or threatened and intimidated in various ways. Lois Sophia’s case is the latest in a series of such stringent actions against protesters and dissenters. If a slogan can land a person in jail, or nearly do so, that system can hardly be called a democracy where basic freedoms are guaranteed and protected.

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Freedom to protest cannot be denied

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