Citizenship protests: Violence is unacceptable
The anti-CAA protests are losing their moral authorityUpdated: Dec 18, 2019 19:16 IST
On Tuesday afternoon, in Delhi’s Seelampur area, protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act turned violent. The protesters assaulted policemen, pelted stones, damaged vehicles, burnt a police post, and even attempted to storm a police station. The police retaliated by firing bullets in the air, tear gas shells, and resorted to lathi charge. 21 people, including 15 police personnel, were injured. Peace was, however, restored quickly. The police was effective but restrained, unlike its response in Jamia Millia Islamia on Sunday night when it was excessive. Local peace committees and residents, who blamed “outsiders” for the protests, did their bit in calming the mood. But the nature of the protests throw up disturbing issues.
The CAA has caused legitimate anxieties across the country, particularly in the Northeast, among Muslims, and across universities. There is a strong intellectual, ideological and political argument against the legislation and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). But there is a simple rule. These anxieties can only be expressed peacefully. The Constitution of India does not permit violence against the State. Laws will, justifiably, kick into force if there is an attempt to incite disorder, vandalise public property, and assault public officials on duty. And the law enforcement machinery is then within its rights to respond, though proportionately and within the framework of law.
Those opposed to the CAA must recognise that the violent turn protests have taken in several parts of West Bengal, and increasingly in Delhi, has alienated even those sympathetic to their position. It has eroded the moral authority of the protests; it has allowed the government to claim that the protests have been engineered by vested interests out to cause chaos and instability; it has created the grounds for security forces to step in; it has taken away attention from the objections to the law and instead towards the history and background of the protestors. The infusion of religious radicalism into the protests has not helped either, for it has turned the debate from one about the constitution to one which is communal in nature. The government must allay the apprehensions caused by CAA. It must allow dissent and respect the right to protest. But the onus also lies on those at the forefront of these protests to abide by the Constitution of the land. This will be the legally correct, ethically sound, and politically wise route.