The Deaf State
The right to protest is fundamental. In India, it is a parody. You begin with usually applying to the people you are protesting for permissions to protest (since most protests these days are against the government itself), and from there it goes downhill.
The scariest part is that violent protests are successful. Peaceful protests are either ignored as in have no impact on state or are attacked by the state.
It is almost as if the state is scared of its capacity to fight violence. So you have riots that result in barely any arrests, threats by extremist groups seeing the state scurry to bend to their will, and locals protesting for fundamental rights brutalized.
A prime example is our anti-nuclear protests. The government is convinced that there is a foreign hand. The rationale behind this is obscure. Why is it impossible that locals disagree with the government only on the subject of nuclear power and it is mysterious foreign hands, when everyone and his cousin is critical about the government about everything else? Your guess is as good as mine. On the contrary, it is the government's deal with a Russian plant that blatantly is trying to overrule the wishes of the people of the land in Koodankulam. In Jaitapur, it is even more wondrous. Areva, the company to build the reactors at Jaitapur (if we allow it, that is) is the proud recipient of a Public eye award for their business practices being harmful to people for their uranium mines in Africa and the devastation from contamination they have caused. You should be proud to know they offered the Indian government a stake. This of course means that the protests against the Jaitapur plant have a foreign hand, seeing as how in our world powerless we have become such a new India, that the people at the grassroots probably feel more foreign than foreign nationals.
Regardless of your stand on nuclear power, what you need to know about the most in this is that the locals have ALWAYS opposed these plants, their demands got bulldozed by the government, and now Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on one of his rare occasions of speaking used it to explain how now with an investment of 14 thousand crores, the Koodankulam plant cannot be scrapped. The media is in silent compliance.
The protesters are protesting. Still protesting. All the way. They have been beaten up, arrested, blockaded till babies in villages had no milk to drink, supplies and even water was running out, till a court decision stopped the blockade. Guess who was acting illegally?
Irom Sharmila has been fasting for over a decade now. What is she fasting in protest of? Rapes by Army and the impunity from prosecution provided by the AFSPA. She gets arrested for attempting suicide and force fed in a hospital for a decade now. That is right. A decade of regularly being arrested by the police and a tube forced down her throat and food put down it. Regardless of your stand on the AFSPA, you have to understand the inherent violence in a person kept alive through force-feeding for a decade. But, if Irom Sharmila does die, Manipur will go up in flames with grief, because this woman is much loved and respected, and they will be "violent, anti-national people for trying to make the Army fighting terrorists weaker".
Last year, Kejriwal was criticized for not fasting. This year, he fasted. His health deteriorated. The government was not required to do anything at all about this. His was a voluntary action. Yet, Digvijay Singh made a point of saying "Nothing will happen to Kejriwal. Look at Irom Sharmila.". The utter disregard for protest, as well as the easy readiness to violate a person to force feed are horrifyingly casual in this comment.
Last year, at Forbesganj, Bihar a largely Muslims area, four protesters were killed by police. A constable is seen prancing and kicking dead bodies and jumping on the head of one injured well after the crowd had dispersed. What were the people of Bhajanpur protesting? The grant of land for a factory to the son of BJP politician Ashok Agarwal. Why? Because it would block the only access road to their village. Why not compromise? They did. The factory owners agreed to provide them with an alternative road around the factory, but started construction before providing it. A culvert on the dirt track being used alternatively got demolished too. They were left with no access road for entire villages. When in protest they tried to pull down the compound wall, police and Ashok Agarwal himself fired on them, aiming for head and torso - normally understood as an intent to kill as opposed to disperse. And kill they did. One pregnant woman, one seven-month-old baby. One man called Ansari got four bullets above his waist, and chief constable Sunil Kumar Yadav jumped ON his head as he lay injured. He was still alive when sent for post mortem, but died soon enough. The police claimed ten rounds were fired. Post mortems found 16 rounds in the bodies. 15 of them above the waist. Did the police lie, or did Ashok Agarwal fire the unreported (at least) extra six rounds from a personal weapon? Your guess is as good as mine. Actually, I am feeling inadequate to describe this, so here is the video. Not for the faint hearted. Seriously, don't watch if violence disturbs you.
Last year, a group of students in Bangalore planned a slut walk to protest deteriorating conditions for safety for women. No obscenity was planned. Extremist Hindu outfits threatened violence against the slutwalk. Instead of taking action against them, police cancelled permissions for the slutwalk on the night before. When organizers turned up in perfectly normal jeans and T-shirts to inform protesters arriving that the event had been cancelled, police asked them to leave the area. The organizers complied. Still, as they were leaving, the police arrested them, later described as detained, for several hours for no reason at all. They were complying without complaint to the outrageous changes in orders all through. To date, absolutely no action has been taken against the extremist outfit for threatening them for planning a perfectly legal event.
College students protesting the horrifying Mangalore attacks got prevented by using section 144 and forced to protest only on college premises and not come out.
Contrast this with the blatant blame for victims and lack of blame in the same Mangalore attacks by no less than the Karnataka State Women's Commission itself. C Manjula, member of the BJP Mahila Morcha too, blamed promiscuous behavior of the girls, drinking (which is perfectly legal), prostitution racket by parents of school kids, drugs, asked for a police officer father of one of the victims to be transfered.... but has no condemnation for the attackers. Neither BJP nor RSS has disowned either the organization Hindu Jagarana Vedike, nor has that organization disowned its city coordinator Subhash Padil who led an attack which can only be described as a gang rape without penetration.
Contrast this with the MNS protests against the tollbooths, where four tollbooths were vandalized, earlier protests ranging from a hospital earlier this year to vandalizing a film set last month. Their protests against migrants are famous.
Contrast this with the Shiv Sena's rich history of violent protests, which probably has the greatest diversity ranging from political cartoons and speeches to threats, burnt buses, beaten up people and dead people at times.
Contrast this with the riots in Hyderabad earlier when a slab of beef landed up in a Hanuman temple and green paint was splashed on the walls.
Contrast this with the Muslim riots last weekend, which saw 2 dead and almost 60 injured, at least 45 of which were policemen. Only 23 protesters were arrested, mostly those who were protesting and returned for bikes according to rumors. The real rioters are missing. There have been no arrests after the initial ones. Evidence mounts that rioters had arrived armed for violence. Women police molested did not file FIRs. Police who traced stolen ammunition to a Muslim ghetto in Mumbra got attacked by a mob of about 350 people and warned against arresting the teenagers they were traced to. Insider information is that police are under severe political pressure to not take action against the rioters and free the 23 rioters arrested as well before Eid.
A few things stand out to me.
- The right to protest in India is limited to political parties. The rest get either ignored completely, or harmed by the state itself.
- Most violent protests in the country are with political backing and often pay vote bank dividends. Lawmakers are the largest lawbreakers in this regard.
- Violent protests bring results. Be it compliance with demands or be it electoral victories.
- Ramdev arrested on way to march towards Parliament (thehindu.com)
- Indian yoga guru Baba Ramdev detained by police (guardian.co.uk)
- UPA can't let guard down on corruption (dailymail.co.uk)
- Indian Yoga Guru Detained After Anti-Corruption Protest (nytimes.com)
- Live: Ramdev forces Delhi Police to shift jail (ibnlive.in.com)
- Live: Get ready for jail, Ramdev tells supporters (ibnlive.in.com)
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