FPJ Edit: Poster protests are intrinsic to democracy; arresting those who pasted them on Delhi walls is no act of glory

The Delhi police have not crowned themselves with glory by arresting ordinary people pasting anti-government posters and filing cases against them. According to one report, 27 persons were arrested and first-information reports (FIRs) registered against them. Many others were taken to the police stations and detained there for hours before they were released with a warning. Almost all of them were doing the job to earn as measly an income as Rs 150-300. The police took action against them for violating the lockdown rules and under the epidemic law in force in the state.

The posters said, “Modi, why did you export vaccines meant for our children?” The Aam Aadmi Party, which runs the government in Delhi, has already owned up responsibility for the poster campaign and challenged the police to arrest their leaders and MLAs, instead of the poor people trying to make a living. The incident also highlights the fact that the lockdown which has entered the fifth week has deprived millions of their source of livelihood.

Incidentally, sometime ago, when posters and hoardings came up in Canada thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the vaccine supplied by India, those holding power boasted about the diplomatic brownie points India had scored. When posters circulated abroad are welcome, why should they be seen with a suspicious eye when they are pasted on the walls in Delhi? Use of posters as a form of protest is intrinsic to democracy.

The Press, as an institution, came into being in the 16th century when the Puritans in England and, later, in the US, started publishing posters and pamphlets which eventually became news journals and newspapers. During the freedom struggle, many imaginative slogans like ‘Dilli Chalo, Do or Die, Jai Hind, Purna Swaraj, Vande Mataram, Simon, Go Back, etc’, converted into posters and banners, were used with telling effect. The alien police used the same tactics Delhi Police are now using to prevent the defacing of walls and public places. What is noteworthy is that the people are willing to risk arrest and harassment to earn a few hundred rupees.

In fact, it is the helplessness of the people that should bother the police and the government. For the rich, the government employees and those who can work from home, the lockdown may even be a blessing in disguise. Alas, for those who work in the informal sector on daily wages, the lockdown is a harrowing time. They do not have the savings or resources to fall back on. They are the ones who are tempted to paste a few posters on the walls at night to earn a pittance. What have the Central and state governments done for such people who have to fend for themselves?

It is a socio-economic problem that needs to be attended to, not with arrests under sections 188 and 269 of the Indian Penal Code but with ameliorative steps like providing dry ration and cash transfer. Even rich countries like the US thought it necessary to transfer money into the accounts of their citizens so that the needy among them could overcome their crisis. The government should think on those lines, instead of unleashing the police on those who paste posters of protest.

The ruling party at the Centre, too, had benefited from the massive ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign launched under the leadership of Anna Hazare during the concluding months of the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government. To recall, none of those who pasted posters in Delhi in support of the campaign was arrested at that time. The Covid-19 situation in Delhi has improved slightly, as one takes stock of the situation exactly a month after the lockdown was imposed. Nonetheless, the challenges remain. Hospital beds are available only at a premium and crematoria and burial grounds are unable to meet the growing needs. And to aggravate the problem, there are racketeers and profiteers who are out to make a killing by selling essential drugs at black market rates and hoarding oxygen concentrators.

There are also reports of cheats exploiting the sentiments of the people to fatten their pockets. There are also people who do not observe Covid protocol when they congregate on one pretext or another. Compared to their counterparts elsewhere, Delhi Police have the largest number of VIPs and VVIPs to protect, leaving few policemen to do real police duty. Instead of wasting their time on registering silly cases, they should concentrate on maintaining law and order in this extraordinary pandemic period.

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