PUDR strongly condemns the hooliganism and hostility of the Bajrang Dal as we assembled at Jantar Mantar in protest against the execution of Afzal Guru by the Indian government on 9 February 2013. This small enclosure provided by the Delhi government for all protests and demonstrations from across the country, which was barricaded on all sides, became the site for members of the Bajrang Dal to spew their anti-Muslim and anti-Kashmiri hatred, openly aided and abetted by the Delhi Police.
The protest, organized by PUDR and other organizations, was meant to be a silent protest, mourning and protesting the hanging of Afzal Guru that morning. The Kashmiri students who joined the protest came and quietly sat with their banners, but they immediately became the target of the Bajrang Dal. As many of us questioned the mob, urged the police to help, and stood by the students, we were witness to the open manner way in which the police allowed a few Bajrang Dal members to repeatedly assault us with physical intimidation and filthy verbal abuse. Those yelling at us that we were “deshdrohis” and betraying the country by lamenting the hanging of Afzal Guru also directed sexist abuse at the women present, including obscene gestures of sexual violence using their hands and sticks. Cries of packing off the Kashmiri students and their relatives to Pakistan rent the air.
One film-maker was physically attacked. One of our PUDR members had his face smeared with black paint while the police did absolutely nothing to prevent the attackers. Instead, a few minutes before that, four police personnel had pounced upon another PUDR member and whisked him off while he was preventing Bajrang Dal members from attacking the Kashmiri students. Not a single Bajrang Dal member was restrained by the huge police force present; the police were facing us as if we needed restraint. The ordeal came to an end with the police picking up 22 of the protestors, most of them Kashmiri students, and transporting them to the Mandir Marg and Parliament Street police stations. Half of them were female students. The police bias is evident in the fact that not a single Bajrang Dal activist was picked up even though they were obviously the aggressors. It took a few hours for the demonstrators to remain at the thanas and prevail upon the police to let the students go.
Even as the PUDR team filed its complaint in the Parliament Street police station, Bajrang Dal members threatened and abused us. The police remained mute even within the police station till we insisted the Bajrang Dal members leave before we write our complaint. As they left, they made many threatening remarks to the women present of avenging themselves later outside the thana. At the Parliament Street station, two men who were with tikka on their forehead and were part of the Bajrang Dal mob revealed themselves to us as police personnel in plainclothes. Police personnel have a right to be part of a political organization, however politically despicable. But in practice it will result in bias, anti-minority and anti-women hooliganism backed by the knowledge that they are immune since they are also police personnel.
It is shocking how such open hooliganism is allowed and what sexist abuse goes unpunished, and how the police allow it to happen. In the many protest rallies recently against sexual violence in Delhi, the role of the police has been severely critiqued by all sections. The Home Ministry owes us and the people of Delhi an explanation for this belligerence of the police and its open support today of Bajrang Dal members.
The clandestine manner in which the Indian government carried out the execution of Afzal Guru is an open miscarriage of justice at several levels. The denial of the opportunity for judicial review after the rejection of a mercy petition by the President is starting a trend that needs to be stopped right now. PUDR is opposed to the death penalty on principle, and demands its abolition.
It is an even bigger challenge today for us all to claim the space for the right to dissent in the face of growing police repression and right-wing assault. With the Delhi police being part of the Home Ministry, we urge the UAPA government to get its police force to act with restraint in handling the democratic right to protest and the democratic space to protest. As it is, that space has been shrunk over the years in Delhi: protests are restricted to Jantar Mantar; Section 344 is applied arbitrarily and for long periods in many parts of Delhi; protestors are routinely beaten up and charges filed against them, much more than they used to be. We believe that that one marker of a true democracy is not how you treat people who agree with you, but those who disagree. Preserving the right to dissent is crucial.
PUDR demands that:
- Charges of physical assault, and physical threats and abuse of women be filed against the specific Bajrang Dal activists;
- An enquiry be conducted into police inaction and bias on 9 February;
- That the space for peaceful democratic protest be allowed to flourish;
- We demand the abolition of the death penalty in India.
D. Manjit and Asish Gupta