By Mohd. Naushad Khan
Words from the Gettysburg address of Abraham Lincoln are often quoted as a definition of democracy. According to him, democracy is, “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It means the kind of relationship with people and government will ultimately determine the nature of governance. For a country, it has constitution, law of the land and democratic institutions to support and strengthen democracy.
However, the interaction between the people and the various levels of government has deteriorated in recent decades. People are now acting more assertively and critically. They are now more conscious of their rights and are aware of the discriminatory nature, if any, of the government. These days every action of the government is either ideologically guided or politically motivated.
In the recent past we have seen some historical protests against CAA and anti-farm laws and the response of the government which many termed as undemocratic, unconstitutional and against the law of the land. The right to protest and dissent is an important component of democracy. Protestors have right to be heard by the government, to have dialogue and resolve the issue through dialogue and reconciliation. But what the government did was so apparent that not many were surprised by the response of the government.
But very recently, we also witnessed two different protests across India. One was against the Nupur Sharma remarks on the Prophet ﷺ and the other was that of Agnipath protests. The response of the government in the first set of protests was harsh, aggressive and blunt as if the protesters were no citizens of India; but on the contrary, the response of the government to Agnipath protesters was mild, moderate and that of caring despite the fact that these protests were violent. The double standard in dealing with these protestors was clearly visible which is against the guiding principle of our democracy and defies the spirit of the Constitution of India.
Kavita Krishnan, Secretary All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), member of the politburo of the CPIML Liberation and editor of CPIML Liberation’s monthly publication, Liberation, while sharing her perspective on the issue, said, “Muslims’ protests against hate-speech were largely peaceful; there were only some sporadic acts of stone-pelting and arson, and it is not clear if even those few instances were actually done by Muslim protestors or by agent provocateurs. On the heels of the Muslim protests, came protests by young job-seekers against the Agnipath scheme. These protests were overwhelmingly marked by violent rage: involving public burning of trains and stone pelting against police.
“But the same police officers, who rained bullets on protestors and bulldozed their homes, were seen and heard arguing for restraint in the police response, reminding the public that the protestors were after all “our children.” Why are Muslim protestors even when peaceful not seen as “our children”? If the house of a Muslim woman can be demolished on the grounds that her husband allegedly incited youth to pelt stones, why is the same not done to homes of Hindus whose sons pelted stones on police and set fire to trains?”
Veronica Joseph, argues in an article published by Newslaundry under the heading, “Rioters’ turn ‘angry youth’, bulldozers disappear: Two sets of protests expose TV’s communal bias,” on 18 June. According to Joseph, “When it came to the protests over the Prophet remarks, news anchors called for the thunder of bulldozers and deployed words such as “pattharbaaz”, or stonepelter, and “dangaai”, or rioter. However, for the unrest surrounding the new armed forces recruitment programme, many tried to sympathise with the stakeholders, calling them “protesters” or “angry youth”. Nary was a word said about a bulldozer – increasingly seen as a symbol of state-sanctioned violence against minorities – to rein in Agnipath protesters, no matter the scale of the violence.”
Joseph added, “In fact, on Friday, when the protests over the anti-prophet remarks were long curbed with an iron fist, and violence pertaining to the Agnipath scheme was beginning to unravel, several anchors were still busy predicting what would happen outside mosques, and if the bulldozers were ready.”