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Rights

Across India, People Face Charges for Participating in Protests in Support of Palestine

Curbs have been placed on gatherings in many parts of the country, while some protestors are facing criminal action for acts of “unlawful assembly” to promote "enmity between two groups”.

Mumbai: Over the past weeks, innumerable protests – some impromptu and a few by rights organisations – have been organised across many big and small cities in India. These protests, largely peaceful, and an organic coming together of those seeking an end to Israel’s siege and relentless bombing of Gaza, have, however, not gone well with the Indian state.

Irrespective of which government is in power and what the political party’s stand has been on the ongoing conflict in West Asia, protestors in many states are facing criminal action for acts of “unlawful assembly” to promote “enmity between two groups”. 

India’s long-standing position – reiterated by the Narendra Modi government – on the Israel-Palestine conflict is that it supports a “negotiated solution resulting in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, within secure and recognised borders, at peace beside Israel as endorsed in the relevant UNSC and UNGA Resolutions”.

But in a democracy where the right to protest peacefully is guaranteed and the government recognises the rights of Palestinians, here are a few instances when police cases were registered against protestors.

As one of the first responses to the Israel-Gaza war, several students of the Aligarh Muslim University took out a rally on October 9. This peaceful rally, organised as an expression of solidarity with Palestinians, landed at least four students in trouble as the police booked them under Sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, language, etc), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), and 505(statements inducing public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). 

The state chief minister Yogi Adityanath, soon after the AMU protest, directed the police to take “stern action” against actions or social media posts in support of Palestine. According to a report in the Deccan Herald, senior district police officials have been directed to speak to the Muslim clerics and make it clear that “any attempt to incite passion on social media or a similar call from the religious places will not be tolerated”.

A cop, belonging to the Muslim community, posted in Lakhimpur Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh, had merely shared a pro-Palestine post on social media. Within days, he was suspended from duty and an additional superintendent of police rank officer was appointed to carry out an inquiry about the constable and “his political inclination”. 

In similar incidents, the police in Kanpur booked two young Muslim clerics, Suhail Ansari and Atif Chowdhary, for posting content in support of Palestine on social media. While Ansari was arrested, the police raided Chowdhary’s residence.

Uttar Pradesh, however, is not the only one to crack down on protestors.

In Delhi, the state police, along with the Rapid Action Force had, on October 17, detained two busloads of protesters who came for a “Citizens’ Vigil” against Israel’s offensive on Gaza.

On the two Fridays since the war began, Muslims were barred from offering prayers at Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, Kashmir. Police closed down the iconic masjid, apprehending protests. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, who was recently allowed to offer Friday prayers and deliver the Friday sermon at Jama Masjid after four years of house detention, was once again put under house arrest on October 15 and is not being allowed to step out of his house.

Starting with the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, the violence in West Asia has so far claimed the lives of 1,400 Israelis and over 5,100 Palestinians. According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, about 40% of the Palestinians killed are children.

If the response to the protests in BJP-governed states was not surprising, surely the actions of the police in Congress states are. The Congress condemned the Hamas attack on Israel but also reiterated its long-standing support for the rights of Palestinian people. As the conflict escalated, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) – the party’s highest decision-making body – passed a resolution in support of the Palestinian people’s struggle. Party leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Jairam Ramesh spoke in support of Palestine.

But in Karnataka, the police’s actions were diametrically opposite. 

The Cubbon Park police in Bengaluru booked 11 persons, including a member of the Bahutva Karnataka (a citizen’s group), and other unnamed people for holding a solidarity gathering in support of Palestine on MG Road. While the police haven’t booked them for “promoting enmity”, the sections applied are largely for gathering without permission and for “public nuisance”. The problem, however, was not gathering without permission but denial of one. Almost all groups planning protests across India have been denied requisite permissions.  

The Mumbai police in Maharashtra went a step ahead by not just detaining the protestors but also allegedly beat them up. Two young activists of the Revolutionary Workers Party of India (RWPI) – Ruchit Lad and Supreeth Ravish – were arrested on October 13. According to the Mumbai police, RWPI had planned to organise a protest in the Matunga-Dadar area regarding the Israel-Palestine clash. The police, as expected, denied permission. Supreeth and Ruchit then decided to hold placards in the Lallubhai compound area in Mankhurd and protested against the Israeli government. Soon, other youths joined them.

Ruchit and Supreeth were subsequently arrested under sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 332 (punishment for the offence of voluntarily causing harm in order to deter a public worker from doing his duties), along with other sections of rioting under the IPC. When the duo was produced before a Magistrate court, Ruchit alleged that he was brutally assaulted in police custody. 

While they have secured bail in the case, the two are yet to be released from jail.