Why are protest spaces being closed off even as the new Government prepares to assume office?

Why is the Delhi police using Section 144 to arrest protesters or prevent protests in public spaces? JNU students planned to protest at Gujarat Bhawan to demand justice for the Akshardham innocents, but cops hijacked their bus and took it to Jantar Mantar!

The protest was inspired by the Supreme Court acquittal of the 6 Akshardham convicts; the SC held that they were all innocents who had been framed by the Gujarat police, and held that the then Gujarat Home Minister, Narendra Modi, had ‘not applied his mind’ when he gave sanction for prosecution under POTA. Actually the ‘non-application of mind’ by Modi in Gujarat’s terror cases, is pretty deliberate – just like Manmohan Singh’s looking the other way in scam cases.

Students wanted those cops who framed innocents punished, apology and compensation for innocents, also scrapping of draconian laws. But Delhi Police did not allow protesters to reach Gujarat Bhawan – it detained students, entered the bus and made the driver go to Jantar Mantar instead!

Why is Section 144 being deployed like a weapon in Delhi to prevent protests at places where protests have been held routinely for years? Since when is it illegal to hold protests at State Bhawans in the capital?

Students held the protest at Jantar Mantar; the demonstration was addressed by JNUSU President Akbar Chawdhury, and leaders of AISA, DSF, DSU, AISF, SFI, Untouchable India, Jamia Solidarity Forum, and DU Queer Collective.

After the protest at Jantar Mantar, the cops ‘escorted’ students back to JNU!

The anger of young people when Section 144 was invoked to prevent/suppress anti-rape protests in 2012 December is still fresh in people’s memory, also when Section 144 was used against anti corruption protestors by the Congress and UPA.

Courts have taken Delhi Police to task for illegal, repetitive and unjustified use of Section 144. In its judgment in the Ramlila Maidan midnight crackdown incident involving Ramdev’s supporters, the Supreme Court had said that Section 144 must be invoked only in emergency situations having grave consequences. In a May 2011 order, the Delhi High Court had criticised the Delhi Police for “passing of repetitive orders” under Section 144 and had disposed of the writ petition after the police submitted in an affidavit that the “repeated use of power under Section 144 CrPC has been discontinued in the New Delhi district”.

The UPA Govt’s prolific use of Section 144 to suppress protests was one of the reasons people punished it with defeat. But now, even before the new Govt has taken the reins, the Delhi Police is going on the offensive, arresting AAP activists for ‘violating Section 144 at Tihar Gates’ and preventing a peaceful dharna at the gates of Gujarat Bhawan by students! The memories of BJP leaders are notoriously short, of course. The same BJP leaders who waxed outrageous at the UPA Govt’s use of Section 144 and raised the cry of ‘Emergency’ when the Congress and UPA did it, now tell us that indiscriminate use of Sec 144 is perfectly fine.

Delhi and India have a powerful record of defying arbitrary impositions of Section 144, of fighting attempts to shrink the available public spaces for protest, of reclaiming protest spaces – like India Gate – that the Govt decreed to be ‘out of bounds’. The new Govt and PM rode the wave of people’s anger – especially young people’s anger – against the UPA Govt’s craven attempts to choke off dissent and protests. But the signals the new regime is sending are unmistakeable threats to dissent and protest. Well, times of street protests for truth and justice, are truly good times, in every country and clime.