With horrific instances of police brutality tumbling out of Uttar Pradesh, the Central government must ask the state police and government to stand down
The stories of police crackdown against NRC-CAA protests coming out of Uttar Pradesh are gruesome. Not only do they violate every human right, but they also spell out the force with which the administration can cripple the common man, and how quickly constitutional freedoms can be cruelly impinged upon.
What's most alarming is the impunity with which the state government is defending the police action. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath called it his government's 'raudra roop' (fierce face). Can he even call himself a 'yogi' anymore? Such nomenclature usually denotes a person who has achieved an advanced spiritual state; someone who has linked himself to God. In Uttar Pradesh, we see no spirituality in Adityanath's governance; just a ghastly scale of violence unleashed by the state machinery on protestors, most of whom are Muslims. Over 20 people have died while protesting the inequitable and contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the National Population Register (NPR).
Should the police not act against violent rioters? Of course, it should. Water cannons and tear gas have often been used to rein in angry mobs and reinstate law and order. But to shoot and lathi-charge scores of peaceful protestors can be exercised only by an authoritarian administration that views itself as autocratic. It is also a government that couldn't care less about the denting of India's image overseas. That same 'Brand India' that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been painstakingly trying to build for the last 6 years has come undone by one of his own. When international press write-ups start calling Adityanath a 'militant monk' and Amnesty International asks him to withdraw his "hateful rhetoric" against Muslims, PM Modi can rest assured that its the Central government and he as well, who come out looking the worst for it.
The Indian government has shut down the Internet 350 times since 2014; 138 times in 2018 alone. In the age of social media, having no Internet access is engineered to purportedly minimise chances of fuelling unrest. But the shutdown also stifles the voice of the common people in a region. First, Jammu and Kashmir remained voiceless for months. The same practice was implemented in Uttar Pradesh too. For several days, horrific messages and information kept reaching those who were outside the state. There was no way to verify any of the information as there was no connectivity.
In the days that followed, the bitter cold of December brought forth even further bone-chilling stories; these were now attributed to legitimate news sources. Scary stories of police excesses — cops entering homes on a rampage, detaining and arresting innocents, using physical force on women and children, stripping a cleric, asking protestors to go to Pakistan — kept tumbling out of the state closet one after the other. Unbiased media reports paint a dreadful picture of police brutality. The international press on the police action is more vociferous than a largely pliant Indian media.
What is happening in Uttar Pradesh is taking place in front of all of us. If we don't speak up, we too are acquiescing to this carnage through our silence. The Home Minister and Prime Minister must act against this state-sponsored terror and ask the Uttar Pradesh police to stand down. The nationwide protests should also be a message to the Central government to roll back CAA and put on hold its plans for NRC and NPR. There are far more important issues for the government to worry about; making us prove our nationality should be the least of them. And, why are we time and again asking Muslims to prove their 'Indianness'? They are us and we are them. Let us also stop branding them as 'Indian Muslims'; we are all 'Indians'. Period.
Shutapa Paul is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal