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Boat Club to Jantar Mantar: Delhi's shrinking spaces for dissent

New Delhi, Oct 7 Wednesday will be remembered as a red letter day in the nation's history of ...
Boat Club to Jantar Mantar: Delhi's shrinking spaces for dissent

New Delhi, Oct 7 Wednesday will be remembered as a red letter day in the nation's history of protests when the Supreme Court said it cannot accept that an indeterminable number of people can assemble whenever they choose to protest, and cited the distinction between the manner of dissent against the colonisers and the expression of dissent in a democratic system.

"What must be kept in mind, however, is that the erstwhile mode and manner of dissent against colonial rule cannot be equated with dissent in a self-ruled democracy," said the top court.

It was referring to the Shaheen Bagh blockade that occupied an active road of the national capital for more than a month protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

While many have breathed a sigh of relief at the apex court stepping in and bringing a semblance of balance between democracy and dissent, some fear the Capital's protest culture may be at risk with shrinking space for protest in Delhi.

One of the Capital's oldest spots for mid to large-level protests has been the iconic Ram Lila Maidan. From Jayaprakash Narayan's anti-Indira Gandhi protests in the 1970s to the Anna Hazare-led anti-graft campaign during the UPA era, the sprawling and dusty ground saw some of the most eventful agitations in the national Capital.

However, over the years, getting a chance to protest in this Maidan has also become a tad tougher. The steep per day booking charge makes many smaller protesting groups opt out of this location.

India Gate had been a favourite protest site not so long ago. During the Nirbhaya rape case protests, India Gate was brimming with public anger. But not any more. Whenever any protest call is made at India Gate, Section 144 is invoked, as it happened this time around when protesters wanted to go to India Gate demanding justice for the victim of the Hathras gang-rape. "No gathering is permissible around India Gate due to imposition of Section 144 CrPC," the Delhi Police tweeted.

Of course Jantar Mantar has been the favourite protest central that saw many small protests to bigger political dharnas and even resounding agitations like Anna Hazare sitting on a fast demanding the passage of Lokpal Bill.

But in 2018, the Delhi Police had come up with draft guidelines stating that only 1,000 people can be present there at the time of staging protests. This after the Supreme Court had lifted the 'complete ban' on holding dharna there that the NGT had imposed. Even now, a police permission is needed for holding a dharna there.

Another favoured spot for expressing dissent in the capital has been the Boat Club. There is an iconic photo of former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh addressing a rally at Boat Club with a sea of people.

But along with Jantar Mantar, the National Green Tribunal also imposed a blanket ban on protests at Boat Club areas as well, which was later challenged and vacated by the apex court.

However, with abundant restrictions in place, the freewheeling protest at boat club has become a thing of the past.

Parliament Street remains closely guarded, bracketed with barricades and a water cannon placed nearby.

Historically speaking, Queen's Garden (now called Azad Park), Town Hall, Clock Tower and Feroz Shah Kotla, have been witness to protests during the British Raj. However, no one perceives them as a protest spot anymore.

While the apex court's categorical assertion can be seen as much-needed in disciplining those who cross the line, it has also raised questions about the national capital's shrinking protest sphere.

( With inputs from IANS )

Disclaimer: This post has been auto-published from an agency feed without any modifications to the text and has not been reviewed by an editor

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