Plea for democratic solution needs attention - GulfToday

Plea for democratic solution needs attention

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Farmers-India-

Indian farmers staging a protest against the government.

The Narendra Modi administration, stuck with legislative measures which it is unable to implement due to popular opposition, has embarked upon a course of action which is turning out to be a remedy worse than the disease.

When the Delhi police dropped the move to implicate Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in a sedition case for supporting India’s agitating farmers, it looked like a case of late dawn of wisdom. But it was only a case of change of strategy.

The authorities, realising that action against the teenage global icon will invite more foreign criticism, decided to leave her and act against Indians who may have been in touch with her.  

Delhi police’s cyber unit zeroed in on Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old college student and climate activist. Cops from Delhi arrested her from her home in Bangalore and took her to the capital, where a magistrate remanded her to police custody.

The entire operation was vitiated by procedural infirmities. When an arrest is made, police is required to inform the person’s close relatives. If arrest is made by police from another state it has to produce the person before a local magistrate and obtain permission to take him or her out of the state.

As Disha Ravi’s lawyer put it, in the absence of compliance with the rules, the Delhi police action amounted to abduction. Flouting of rules continued in Delhi. The magistrate before whom Disha was produced conducted proceedings without giving her the opportunity to be represented by counsel.

Reports of the high-handed police action provoked nationwide outrage. Home Minister Amit Shah defended the action, saying age and gender are irrelevant in criminal proceedings. His silence on the police’s conduct indicated the government’s readiness to protect cops who flout rules.

Embedded media circulated sensational accounts of alleged offences committed by Disha and her associates. When she raised the issue before the Delhi High Court, the police denied leaking information to the media.

According to the police, an agitation toolkit which Greta Thunberg tweeted, and later deleted, was a Google document created by Disha Ravi and two other activists, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk.

The police have sought to link the toolkit to the Republic Day violence in Delhi during a tractor rally held with the permission of the police. The charges against them include sedition and conspiracy.

The activists, the police alleges, made the toolkit to spread misinformation against the government and seek public participation in the Republic Day action. Apparently the police is casting its net wide. It has issued notices to several others besides the three activists to join the probe.

On Friday, sharing a photo with the hashtag “Stand With Disha Ravi”, Greta tweeted: “Freedom of Speech is a Human Right”.

If the government imagines that dropping Greta and picking Disha was a smart move, it is mistaken. Writing in a leading Delhi daily, Yashovardhan Azad, a former Indian Police Service officer and Central Information Commissioner, said the evidence, so far, is not enough to justify the charge that the three activists instigated armed confrontation against the state. But there was certainly a propaganda blitz, aimed at garnering international support, based on a narrative of strong-arm tactics on the part of the government to crush the farmers’ movement and discredit its efforts towards a solution.

The government could have had an alternative, more effective, response, he added.

Young people have figured prominently in the agitations against the administration’s unpopular laws. If the authors of the new police strategy reckoned that heavy-handed action will scare them away from the public space or persuade parents to hold them back, they must rethink.   

Reacting to Disha’s arrest, over 230 parents of teenagers and young adults from across the country said in an open letter: “the abduction of Disha by the Delhi police tells us that no young person with a sense of curiosity and passion to change the world is safe in today’s India”.

By criminalising young people’s speech, thoughts and lawful actions, India fails its future citizens, the parents said. They voiced concern over the flouting of rules in Disha’s case and accused Karnataka’s Bharatiya Janata Party government of abdicating its responsibility to protect the people’s right to life.

“We have striven to inculcate in our children a love for the planet and their fellow human beings,” they said. “We value their concerns about the state of the world and their desire to stand up against injustice and make a difference.”

They asked the Delhi police to drop its farcical investigation into the legitimate Right of Expression of young people and release Disha Ravi, and urged Parliament to repeal the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the sedition law.

One hopes the impassioned plea of concerned parents will persuade the Prime Minister to rise above personal and party considerations and explore democratic solutions to the problem of popular discontent.

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