[Editorial Analysis] Police states

Mains Paper 2: Governance
Prelims level: Bihar and Uttarakhand’s surveillance project
Mains level: Government policies and interventions

Context:

• Bihar and Uttarakhand’s surveillance project comes with a free counselling session. If police founds that a person has crossed the line during street protests and demonstration and he/she will be advised to do better. If they persist in speaking out, the police records will categorise them as “anti-national”.

About:

• In the race to the bottom of overzealous policing, Bihar and Uttarakhand appear to have taken a giant, blundering stride.

• The Bihar police has threatened that the might of the “police verification report” will be used against those indulging in “criminal activity” during street protests and demonstrations — to deny them a passport or government jobs or bank loans or financial grants.

• In other words, those who participate in protest demonstrations or disrupt traffic and are named in a chargesheet may find it difficult to get passports, government jobs, financial grants, bank loans or government contracts.

• The Uttarakhand police has gone further and declared its intent of monitoring social media for “anti-national” posts.

• Both proposals expose the lawkeepers’ wilful misinterpretation of the law they are meant to uphold.

Against law:

• Passports Act, 1967 does not empowers the police to intimidate protestors with “such grave consequences”; on the contrary, several court rulings have held that a passport application or a passport renewal application cannot be denied even on the grounds of existing criminal cases.

• Under no provisions of the IPC can the police use an imprecise term such as “anti-national” to profile and harass a citizen for her views and expressions on social media.

• In this recent instance, Bihar police has abused its power to encroach on the personal liberties of citizens.

• Last month, it also passed an order that if someone criticizes government online than that would be designated as cyber-crime.

Conclusion:

• The right to protest is inalienable to a democracy and its citizens. But, increasingly, the Indian political class appears to barricade itself behind political authority to deflect questions.

• It appears to see the protestor on the street or the critical voice on the internet as an adversary and not a legitimate participant in the process of democracy.

• This is the kind of politics that, ultimately, licenses the public shaming of anti-CAA protestors in UP or the multiple barricaded with spiked roads on the national capital’s borders.

• Allowing the police to vet citizens based on their participation in protests or online behaviour is a dangerous, slippery slope. Before other states clone this spectacularly undemocratic idea, it must be binned.

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