Shaheen Bagh: Chinks in India’s rule of law – Amar Bhushan

Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran

Amar BhushanShaheen Bagh demonstrators show a complete lack of empathy for fellow citizens in the neighbourhood colonies and for commuters, shopkeepers and roadside vendors whose daily life has been brought to a standstill. – Amar Bhushan

Prior to December 15, 2019, most people in Delhi and the rest of India would not have heard of Shaheen Bagh. Since then, it has acquired a unique notoriety. Hundreds of Muslim women, some old and very old, kids looking like zombies due to lack of sleep and mothers holding toddlers in arms have been squatting 24×7, on the main road near Shaheen Bagh that connects the city to Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. They want the “black law” (read CAA), NRC and NPR withdrawn, because if these get implemented, they will be expelled to detention camps as illegal immigrants. Their demand is inexplicable because the Citizenship Amendment Act does not take away their citizenship, NRC is not on the government’s agenda and NPR is like census that keeps getting updated since 1872, every 10 years.

The problem is not with squatters’ freedom from their grinding housekeeping or with their right to express dissent over the CAA, but with their complete lack of empathy for fellow citizens in the neighbourhood colonies, commuters, shopkeepers and roadside vendors whose daily life has been brought to a standstill. They are left to suffer because they have no voice, no courage to confront picketers and have no courts or police to rescue them from the blockade. In democratic India, it is perhaps the trespassers who have the right to define who will live where and how.

Shaheen Bagh has also created a new model of protest for forcing governments to accept demand. It is already being gleefully replicated in some cities in India and will surely cheer the habitual dissenters to organise agitations in future, accordingly. They only have to ensure that kids and women join the carnival in huge numbers, arrangements are made in advance to financially sustain protesters for a long period, rabble-rousers are regularly invited to give fiery speeches in support of their demand and location of the protest is so chosen that daily life of common man gets massively affected.

Thanks to this experiment, aura of the rule of law stands shredded in bits and pieces. Instead of clearing the blockade by using water cannon, teargas, pellets and opening fire, Delhi Police has been busy in counselling and begging protesting women to go back home. It is funny seeing them clutch on to the barricades, playing kabaddi with agitators. They appear lost, abandoned and desperate to return to their barracks. They cannot use force against women and kids, because the government fears, it will traumatise the social conscience of the nation, infuriate justices and evoke ridicule from human right activists in India and abroad. So, hell with the enforcement of law and maintenance of public order!

Indeed, the courts are angry with protesters for blocking the road but won’t issue clear directions. They want the police to enforce Section 144 judiciously but what is judicious, they won’t define. It is true, police have committed mistakes but like all institutions, they are also fallible. But instead of letting them perform their legitimate duties, every stakeholder has shackled them. It is dangerous because police are the only instrument that every civilised nation has, to ensure safety to masses from unruly few. – The New Indian Express, 23 February 2020

Amar Bhushan is a former special secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), New Delhi.

Shaheen Bagh Protest


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