In a country where even convicted criminals are allowed to cover their faces while being escorted by the police in or out of the courts, it is extremely diabolical that the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh would name and shame citizens who may or may not be guilty of any crime.
The BJP government last week put up huge posters and hoardings on the streets of Lucknow with names, addresses and photographs of anti-CAA protesters. It calls them “rioters” who owe the administration compensation for allegedly destroying public property during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in December 2019. None of the 53 people named in the posters — including a lawyer, a woman activist-politician and a former IPS officer — have been convicted. One of them is a minor.
Two judges of the Allahabad High Court declared the move “highly unjust” and “absolute encroachment” on the personal liberty of citizens during a suo motu hearing Sunday. But the court reserved its judgment for Monday.
Police forces commonly put up images or sketches of people accused or convicted of some crime as ‘wanted’. Since they don’t know the identity or whereabouts of the alleged perpetrators, they seek the help of citizens. But the Adityanath government knows the names and addresses of each of the 53 people it has named and shamed. The Lucknow administration has even served property attachment notices to several individuals. So, who are these posters really for?
A message to the mob
In 1943 Germany, the anti-semitic propaganda had posters pointing fingers at Jews: “Der ist Schuld am Kriege!” — The war is his fault.
The posters in Lucknow are an invitation for hate mobs to attack — in the same way Gauri Lankesh, whose killer is still not punished, was attacked.
The message is also for the dissenters: ‘You go against us, we plaster you on the walls to be attacked. We will hound you, come after you’. If the past few years have made anything clear, it’s that there is no law for the mob in India. Public lynching or execution will not only go unpunished, but the perpetrators will also be garlanded and celebrated like heroes.
Does the Adityanath government give any assurance that the 53 people it has declared ‘guilty’ without any court hearing will not be attacked by unlawful mobs or the RSS-affiliated law-unto-themselves outfits like Bajrang Dal and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), whose favourite pastime it is to decide who a true sanskari Indian is? Will the government ensure their safety since even hardened criminals are entitled to be protected by the state? Will they be provided security, like the Y+ cover for BJP leader Kapil Mishra, who is accused of inciting communal riots in Delhi with his hateful speech?
A history of shaming
The act of naming and shaming in public isn’t new. In March 2018, the finance ministry under the Narendra Modi government sent out a rider to banks to publish names and photographs of wilful defaulters in newspapers. Before that, in January 2017, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had called for establishing a national register of sex offenders, which would contain names and other details of convicted rapists. The minister, who had floated the idea in the past too, had said it after a man previously convicted of rape was arrested.
Even people on social media have resorted to naming and shaming ‘sexual predators’. Many ‘lists’ of men accused of sexual harassment had come up on Facebook.
While the common public may perhaps resort to such measures because the law is often an utter failure, what excuse does the government have in giving up all sense of legality and putting lives of people in danger?
But these hoardings go beyond mere targeting, which the Adityanath government has made a hobby of. The whole idea of “anti-Romeo squads” also enabled men to choose, at random, boys and men who were troubling and eve-teasing women. The “love jihad” crusaders similarly attacked interfaith couples, who they thought were unions of gullible Hindu girls converted to Islam by treacherous Muslim rogues for the larger purpose of an Islamic caliphate.
BJP got it all wrong on CAA
The BJP has shown an unhealthy obsession with lists and “identification” of people as Indian, non-Indian or anti-Indian. In fact, the whole idea of putting up a list of names on hoardings is a teaser, on a large scale, of why people are scared of lists like the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR). These lists are not infallible. What they end up doing is picking up ordinary people from their inconspicuous surroundings and singling them out for not being “right”.
So, effectively, the Adityanath government has practically shown through these hoardings why the people who are opposing the CAA are protesting against it — for identifying and humiliating people for not being “Indian”.
If the labels of “urban Naxal”, “termite” and “anti-national” were not enough, the idea of putting up pictures and personal details of citizens for public consumption is a nightmare of how the state can flout the privacy of individuals — something that the Allahabad High Court has also noted now. Moreover, the persistent targeting of dissenters through speeches, social media and now through posters and hoardings makes India look less like a democracy, something its citizens and the political class, including PM Modi, proudly sell, especially in the international media.
The BJP has got it all wrong in the CAA movement. It is the party and its governments that are not allowing the anti-CAA wave to die. The incessant demonising of activists and citizens who speak against the CAA is only proving the point the protesters are trying to make — that the government is pitted against its own people.
The BJP government considers itself the last authority on all matters concerning the citizens — even though the whole idea of democracy is for the people, by the people, and of the people. Except our democracy let down people like Gauri Lankesh. Today, it’s letting down people on Lucknow’s walls.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.