Sunday, December 3, 2023

Police versus protesters: a head to head fight that needs to end

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The latest in the attempts to weaken the CAA-NRC-NPR protests come from the Delhi police. It has released CCTV footages from December 15 of students running into the library carrying stones, in an apparent attempt to justify its assault on the students in Jamia library on the same day. The simple question to ask in the face of this “revelation” is: what is the Delhi police trying to say here? Does running inside a library to take cover mean that the police can barge in and attack?

If anything, the footage confirms the gross incompetence and cluelessness of the police. Without explaining why they made no attempt to arrest any protester, they try to justify their atrocities by blaming the protesters.

In the CCTV footage released in response by Maktoob Media, a large group of students are clearly seen pleading to the police and not resisting, the police are seen randomly bashing these students, and a Paramilitary personnel is destroying a CCTV camera. Since the police cannot explain it, they will not show it. But since we students can explain both, we can talk about both sides of the story.

We can also talk about how India Today misreported a wallet in the hands of a student as a stone.

Some of us students have honest questions. In the face of this Organized Goondaism, will you be a simple-minded Gandhian who will let mindless thugs bash you, or will you try to protect yourself?

And, to be frank, the fact that different police forces across India are yet to face any serious repercussions for the human rights violations and terrorism carried out against anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protesters shows the helplessness of the people. It is a case of the various branches of the State succumbing to an ideology of hatred, supported by a section of voters across the country.

If, at the end of all this, one feels like giving roses to a policeperson, they are most welcome to. It would be a great thing if the police accept the roses, but it doesn’t seem to be the case now. But we know the police can be made to change, as we have seen in Maharashtra following the victory of the anti-Hindutva alliance in the state elections there.

The analogy that has been made between the current movement and the independence struggle has to be questioned, for the sake of the movement. Since the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, it took thirty years for the right to self-determination of India to be fully recognized. The Gandhi-Congress-led freedom struggle had to rely on countless regional and national allies, and yet took three decades and to remove the British from power, that too only after the colonisers were weakened by two world wars.

The response to the police brutalities in our times cannot be Gandhian, and we cannot wait for thirty years and two world wars. We have, at best, till 2022 to prevent the genocidal NRC from becoming a reality, and it may be that we cannot prevent it nationwide. Our questioning must begin from the representatives of the people who voted in support of Citizenship Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and extend to all state governments which are yet to oppose its implementation.

Falling into the State’s logic whereby the police, military and paramilitary have a monopoly of violence is fatal here. Democratic movements may be rightfully violent, as long as the violence is directed at the disruption of the State and not at racking up the death count.

A similar clash of logic is bound to come up again soon: in the next phase of the movement when protesters begin to actively resist NPR through concrete actions, will the police be convinced to stand by them, or will they continue with their repressive measures?

No lives were lost in Jamia or the rest of Delhi so far due to police action in the movements. But that was not the case in the nearby Uttar Pradesh. Going forward, one can expect loss of lives in the national capital also. The Delhi police and paramilitary have time and again signalled their intent to inflict damage on the protesters, not the least in Seelampur and in Jamia, where the attack escalated to public sexual assault on students.

Until the Delhi police at the least issues a public apology, one can expect the clash of interests between them and the protesters to become stronger.

Arjun is a student of Mass Communication in Jamia Millia Islamia. He is also a member of Jamia Coordination Committee.

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