The right to peaceful assembly without arms is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(b) of our Constitution. The government of the day cannot insist that such an assembly must not question a law passed by the legislature. In fact, democracy works the other way when people register their legitimate protest against government policies and laws in a peaceful way and the government engages them in talks, leading to better laws and policies. But the police in some states have got some bizarre ideas about that constitutional right. If you Google, there are half a dozen instances where the Hyderabad city police denied permission to people who wanted to take out processions against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The Andhra Pradesh high court was the other day constrained to admonish the police for its arbitrariness and ordered it to form guidelines for deciding whether to give permission to a rally or not.
What is intriguing is that while anti-CAA protests are regularly been denied permission, those supporting the legislation get permission, the latest being the one to be addressed by Union home minister Amit Shah. In Uttar Pradesh, the police face allegations of shooting and killing protesters, though the chief minister denies wrongdoing on the part of the police.
Sometime back, the Madras high court overruled the Chennai police and granted permission to an anti-CAA rally and asked the police to videograph it using drones. The Supreme Court, on its part, has been negotiating with the Shaheen Bagh agitators fully recognising their right to protest.
Representatives of the Union government, starting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while defending the law, have repeatedly recognised the people’s right to dissent. If that’s the case, the governments must ask their police forces not to be more loyal to the king than the king himself and recognise the rights of the citizens of the republic instead.