Encounters With the State and Other Comedies: Asmit Pathare

This is a guest post by ASMIT PATHARE

In response to JNUSU’s call for observing 2nd March as International Day of Protest and to demand justice for Rohith Vemula and the release of the then three arrested students, numerous organisations decided to gather outside Dadar station (E) and carry out a peaceful protest. Among them were All India Students’ Association (AISA), All India Students’ Federation (AISF), Students’ Federation of India (SFI), Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), All India Youth Federation (AIYF), University Committee for Democracy and Equality (UCDE) and others. The protest was supposed to begin at 5pm.

In accordance with the procedure, a written application was submitted for permission for the protest outside Dadar station on the 1st of March. Citing ‘law and order’ reasons (despite the application specifically mentioning that the protest shall be peaceful), the Matunga Police Station denied permission for the same and stated that if at all the above mentioned organisations still conduct the protest and the law and order situation gets disturbed, the responsibility of the same shall lie with the organisations. Subsequently, over a phone call with Abhilasha (AISA), an inspector from the police station urged the organisers to not carry out the protest since a lot of the protesters were students and they wouldn’t want to ruin their lives. Abhilasha responded by saying that she alone is not responsible for the decision making and that she will have to consult all the other participating organisations. It was therefore decided to meet at Shramik Bhavan (situated in a building one block away from Dadar station and in an extremely narrow lane) at 4.30 pm and arrive on a decision. At around 5pm, the police entered the lane with a van and a jeep. A few comrades were standing under the building to receive other participants and guide them to the building. There we learnt that Sec 144 was imposed around Dadar station. 10 people from various aforementioned organisations were forcefully put in the police van and the jeep and were taken to Matunga Police Station. Some comrades who were sitting inside Shramik Bhavan were also arrested. For the record, the protest had not even begun yet.

It is interesting to note the arguments Mumbai Police gave as reasons for our arrest.

1. According to the police, Mumbai has a dedicated site for protests – Azad Maidan. All other protests at any other location thus become illegal.

2. Sec 144 of the IPC objects to ‘unlawful assembly of people carrying deadly weapons’. The only weapons of the protesters were a few banners and mostly, slogans.

3.The letter from the Matunga Police although makes no mention of Sec 144 of the IPC. Instead it quotes Sec 37 (1) and (3) of the Bombay Police Act, 1951 under which even ‘singing of songs’ is prohibited. It also ‘prohibits any assembly or procession whenever and for so long as it (The Commissioner and the District Magistrate) considers such prohibition to be necessary for the preservation of the public order.’ Both these provision do not apply to the situation under which these comrades were arrested. No songs were sung, no slogans were raised, no assembly of people ever happened.

4.On questioning the Police, reference was again made to Sec 144 of the IPC. This time we were told that not more than three people are allowed to assemble and since we were more than three, now we are being arrested. One must not forget that we are still standing in a lane one block away from Dadar station where a multitude of chai and paanipuri wallahs are a usual hangout of the millions of citizens who frequent Dadar station every day. If Sec 144 was indeed imposed around Dadar, how was the Police handling those millions coming in and out of the station in hoards?

5. At the police station, all details of those who were arrested were taken down on a blank sheet of paper. Under the pretext that people were not carrying their residence proofs and photo IDs, Inspector Yevale was seen clicking pictures of the arrested on his personal phone. Meanwhile as they realised the station had run out of stationery, a constable was promptly sent to get printouts of arrest forms. On constant enquiries from us about what charges we are booked under, the only response seemed to be ‘Wait, our senior shall decide that.’ The Senior PI arrived more than an hour later. There were a few friendly exchanges between the comrades and thepPolice as we decided to while our time away singing songs – an activity that caused them much distress.

As Senior PI Balasaheb Kakad arrived, only a few of us were allowed to go speak to him. Mr. Kakad initially tried to scare us by threatening that we all can be jailed for doing what we are doing. He also threatened us by saying that we are able to do this now, but in a month, he would ensure that we aren’t able to do anything at all. What he meant by that, he only knows. When it was pointed out that we had not really ‘done’ anything yet and all we intended to do was protest which happens to be our fundamental right, an understanding was reached upon. Bail bonds were signed in the name of seven comrades and the all of us were released.

A police station is quite an interesting place. The same officers who physically forced us into the van and the jeep were now behaving as if they carried a moral edge over us. We were after all creating a nuisance to society by standing under a building waiting for our friends. We were not those ABVP activists who were allowed complete freedom to enter railway stations and carry out protests within. Nor did we try to create fear in the minds of people by distributing pamphlets at railway stations asking people to be aware of anti-nationals roaming around them. Banners were found in our bags that demanded for immediate release of our arrested comrades in Delhi and enactment of the Rohith Act. Pamphlets were found that tried to analyse what the actions of the present government and its different ministries (and ministers) meant politically and how they were against the interests of the common Indian citizen – the same Indian citizen who boards and alights trains at Dadar station in search of a more complete life every day. Inspector Yevale though chose to look at it as ‘intention of protest’ and thus justified our arrest.

The songs that we sung called for unity devoid of class, caste and gender barriers, they spoke of hope and revolution, they spoke of the undying human spirit of pursuit of freedom. We spoke of the same things that Kanhaiya and Umar Khalid are speaking of and may be that is why we needed to prove that we were not guilty. In one such exchange, as another Inspector patiently heard us and could not come up with any argument as to why we should be in custody, in his bid to reassure us he ended up saying, ‘…so you’ll be released if you haven’t done anything.’ He was immediately reminded that the law of the land does not work according to ‘guilty until proven innocent’ but ‘innocent until proven guilty’. We were promptly sent out of his cabin and made to wait till the ‘Saaheb’ appeared.

After the bail bond formality, a signed complaint was registered at Matunga Police Station for unlawful arrest of citizens. The complaint shall be sent to the District Magistrate and the Commissioner.

It is noteworthy to look at these arrests in the context of Com. Kanhaiya Kumar being granted bail on the same day. While the Delhi Police lay exposed with no evidence against him, the Mumbai police were carrying the baton ahead suppressing any voice that stood in JNU’s support. The Delhi High Court’s order is no different from the morally uptight gazes of the police personnel we faced. One does see a moral high-ground maintained by institutions meant to serve the people – the police and the judiciary. At such times one can’t forget Kanhaiya’s words as he addressed the large gathering in JNU last evening. ‘Who are the people that join the police service in this country?’ he asked. ‘They are people belonging to the weakest section of the society.’ Our cry of azaadi is as much for the police as it is for the farmer who commits suicide or for the soldier who is martyred on the borders. It is in equal measure for Rohit Vemula or Soni Sori or Irom Sharmila or SAR Gilani. The students of JNU, the people who came out in their support and the subsequent discoveries of the whole ‘plot’ are only giving us more strength and hope of a just and equal society in the future. It is to this near future that we sung our songs and raised our slogans as the hapless pawns in the hands of the establishment felt pity for us. What they did not realise is those songs and slogans were for them too.

One hopes they realise it soon. One hopes they all realise it soon. One hopes they all join the struggle and hand in hand we all claim the azaadi in this country – azaadi from class, caste and gender discrimination, from aggressive communal forces, from the RSS, from Brahminism, from poverty, azaadi from state sponsored terrorism, azaadi from the very idea of establishment… azaadi for all! One hopes…

In that hope, red salute to Com. Kanhaiya Kumar, red salute to JNU, red salute to peoples’ struggle for rights.

Awaaz do, hum ek hain!

[Asmit Pathare is a screenwriter, filmmaker and stage lighting designer and a member of Jan Sanskriti Manch, Mumbai.]

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