India must be the leading country in the world where ordinary citizens cause the maximum pain to fellow citizens in their efforts to get the government to hear their demands. Not only they inflict physical and emotional torture on innocents, they have no qualms about damaging public and private property caring two hoots about the consequences of their actions.
And, ironically, top government functionaries, including those whose attention they seek, get the least affected. They watch the ‘tamasha’ from their air conditioned offices and travel with a blanket of security cover without losing any sleep.
The latest instance of ‘agitated’ mobs turning their ire against public and private property was during the Dalit-Marathas protests in the commercial capital of the country, Mumbai. The agitators left a trail of destruction involving public transport and private vehicles parked along the route of their protest march. A young life was lost and several persons received injuries.
It all started with the removal of a signboard which commemorated the contribution of the members of a particular community 200 years ago but a member of another community took offence to it. The entire episode may sound too absurd to the uninitiated but we Indians getting agitated by old historical events even as the world is moving at a fast pace ahead, is a subject matter of another article.
Yet the self goal against fellow citizens in Mumbai was neither uncommon nor infrequent. Besides the damage to public and private property, the huge inconvenience these protests cause to the common man and disrupt normal life are sometimes unimaginable. Numerous unsuspecting people miss their trains, buses and flights. Thousands and thousands of children, women and the aged get caught in traffic jams. Ambulances are held up and there are several instances of those being transported never making it to the hospitals.
It is not that agitations do not take place elsewhere but the ‘freedom’ the agitators get to hold people to ransom in India is unmatched. Worse, no one is held accountable and the goons, who generally take over the rampaging mobs, get away without facing any action. It is also shocking how perfectly sane people turn demons when they become part of a mob.
Only a few months ago, thousands of supporters of Gurmeet Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda indulged in violence and arson following the conviction of their guru at Panchkula. They caused huge damage to public and private property. Punjab and Haryana High Court took a commendable decision to penalise the Dera and ask it to pay for the damages. It even ordered sealing of Dera properties which could be subsequently auctioned to pay for the damage. However procedural and other delays have slowed down the pace. People, including members of media whose vehicles were damaged or burnt, are waiting for relief despite lapse of several months.
The Jat agitation in Haryana and the farmers’ agitation near Delhi, and even the one-day road blockade organised by Shiromani Akali Dal last month to protest ‘false’ cases against workers, were some of the recent instances where ordinary people bore the brunt of inconvenience and damage.
It is not to say that citizens should not raise their voice or should not protest. It’s one of the prime rights in any democracy and the right to protest must be safeguarded with all the strength at one’s command. But putting ordinary citizens to huge inconvenience and damaging property and infrastructure to put pressure on the government is not done.
The culprits, who are caught by security agencies, are let off easily without having to pay for the damage done. Their leaders become even ‘bigger’ leaders.
The SAD-BJP Government had, in fact, come out with a legislation back in 2014. It passed a Bill called Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property Bill, 2014. However it developed cold feet after the Bill got the nod from the President and it never notified it.
The Bill provided for penalties on those causing damage to public and private property : “Whoever commits any damaging act in respect of any public or private property, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to one year and shall also be liable to fine, which may extend to one lakh rupees”. It further provided that whoever “commits any damaging act by fire or explosive substance, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which shall not be less than one.year, but which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine, which may extend to three lakhs rupees”.
It said that other than the sentence, the guilty will also have to pay for the loss caused to the property. The bill provided for setting up of a competent authority to assess the loss and that the amount could also be recovered by attaching the property of the accused.
The legislation was opposed, among others, by the Congress. In another twist of irony, the current Congress government last month notified the Bill in the wake of the Akali agitation!
No democrat would like use of such a law but those instigating and leading rampaging mobs, and misdirecting their ire against the common man, must bear this in mind before inflicting pain on innocent and often helpless ordinary fellow citizens.
Demonstrations take place in most democratic countries. But they are ordered, well behaved and organised in advance. Usually police is informed a few days to week ahead so it can take measures to divert traffic and create minimal obstruction to ambulances and buses etc. The point of a demonstration is to express one’s feelings and let the leaders know that voters are so angry, they can switch their vote next time. Politicians are hit most by votes, not other people’s broken cars, people dying in ambulances while being rushed to hospital or schools and offices closing down because a demonstration stops people from reaching their destination and work. Politicians don’t care about inconvenience to others.
A law regulating demonstrations is needed and a law preventing the pandemic of so called spontaneous demonstrations has to be instituted so we don’t have personal properties of uninvolved people destroyed, public transport damaged or people dying in ambulances.