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Peaceful protests: UP police’s behaviour "unlawful, violent", NHRC told to act

Pooja Shukla
Counterview Desk 
In a representation to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairperson Justice HL Dattu, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), a well-known human rights organization, has said that the right to protest peacefully, enshrined in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, is being eroded across the country, citing several instances where the police are cracking down on those demanding action or raising awareness about legitimate issues.
Especially referring to the manner in which two young women student activists were allegedly targeted by the Uttar Pradesh Police because they exercised their “right” to peacefully protest, the representation cites the case of Lucknow University student leader Pooja Shukla, who has been on a hunger strike and who was protesting to demand access to her entrance examination results, was badly beaten by the Uttar Pradesh Police.
She had to be hospitalised, but has said that she plans to persist with her hunger strike. Shukla was seemingly targeted after she showed black flags to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in 2017, and was then imprisoned for one month, argues the letter to the NHRC, signed by CJP president Anil Dharker and secretary Teesta Setalvad.
Earlier this year, in June, says the letter, student leader Richa Singh, the former president of the Allahabad University student union, was protesting the leak of the Hindi examination paper for the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission (UPPSC) when she and several others were detained by the police, the letter states.
Singh was arrested after police started the lathi charge. She along with other students were booked under serious allegations “which are completely false” and were meant to play with students’ futures, the letter says, adding, while the others who were arrested were later released, Singh was in jail for three days.

Text of the memorandum:

It has come to the attention of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) that the Uttar Pradesh Police is targeting student leaders, and employing tactics such as unwarranted arrests and physical assault to quash student protest. In recent weeks, two women student activists and leaders have been harassed, arrested, and even assaulted for exercising their constitutional rights.
On Wednesday, July 4, 2018, Lucknow University student leader Pooja Shukla, who had on Monday mounted a hunger strike after being denied access to her entrance examination results, was arrested and allegedly brutally beaten by the police. Shukla had, in 2017, waved black flags in front of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and had been imprisoned for one month following that incident.
When she was arrested on July 4, she was demanding the results of her entrance examination; she has alleged that they were being forcibly withheld by the university’s vice chancellor. Shukla was allegedly assaulted so badly that she fainted from dehydration and hypotension, and had to be admitted to a civil hospital in Lucknow.
 “My hunger strike will continue. They beat me, began the lathi charge on us and tore my clothes. I don’t know why they’re doing this. I have been detained and I haven’t seen any FIR lodged against me. I don’t know on what grounds are they detaining me,” she has said. Even today, as she is being treated in hospital, she is unsure of her fate: will she be detained or released?
In June 2018, Richa Singh, former president of the student union at Allahabad University, was arrested while protesting with several other aspirants for the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission (UPPSC). They were protesting the leak of the Hindi examination paper. While the others arrested with her were later released, Singh was jailed for three days.
Richa Singh
“Seven of us were arrested, as several individuals have been brutally beaten up,” Singh told “The Citizen”, adding, “An FIR has been lodged against all of us, the entire blame of setting a public property on fire is put on me. They alleged that I set the bus on fire, and instigated protesters to agitate in front of the UPPSC office, yesterday evening. They have no evidence to prove what they state.” Singh alleged that, during the protest, “one of the buses nearby was set up on fire, by few police officials present near the protest. We have the video with us. They set the bus on fire and then attacked the students and detained all of us from the spot.”
Targeting student leaders for demonstrating over legitimate concerns, because they have been critical of the government, violates their inalienable rights to the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. We appeal to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate the Uttar Pradesh Police’s actions against these two student activists, and recommend measures to protect them and their work, safeguard their constitutional rights, and hold those targeting them accountable.
While the Uttar Pradesh Police’s behaviour is especially unlawful and violent, increasingly we find that the behaviour of the police with peaceful protesters across the country, even in the capital city of Delhi, has been becoming violent. It is high time that the NHRC, mandated to observe and ensure basic standards of human rights protection, issues a strong advisory to the Central and State Governments on this unrestrained police behaviour.
Some of the states, in the prescribed police manuals, have laid down guidelines for regulating the use of force by the police. For instance the Kerala Police Manual, 1970 lays down a step-by-step procedure to deal with unlawful assemblies:
1. The police must invariably secure the presence of a magistrate where it anticipates a breach of peace
2. The decision to use force and the type of force to be used is to be taken by the magistrate
3. Once the order for the use of force is given by the magistrate, the extent of force to be used will be determined by the senior-most police officer
4. The extent of force used must be subject to the principle of minimum use of force
5. Use of force should be progressive – i.e. firearms must be used as a last resort if tear smoke and lathi charge fail to disperse the crowd
6. Common tear smoke which causes no bodily injury and allows recovery of affected persons should be used
7. When the crowd is large and the use of tear-smoke is likely to serve no useful purpose, the police may resort to lathi charge
8. Lathi charge can only begin if the crowd refuses to disperse after suitable warning
9. Clear warning of the intention to carry out a lathi charge should be given through a bugle or whistle call in a language understood by the crowd. If available, a riot flag must be raised. If the police officer in-charge is satisfied it is not practical to give a warning, s/he may order a lathi charge without warning
10. Lathi blows should be aimed at soft portions of the body and contact with the head or collarbone should be avoided as far as practicable
11. The lathi blows must not cease until the crowd is completely dispersed
12. If the crowd fails to disperse through the lathi charge, the magistrate or the competent officer may order firing
13. The fullest warning in a clear and distinct manner must be given to the crowd to inform them that the firing will be effective
14. If after the warning, the crowd refuses to disperse the order to fire may be given
15. The police are not on any account allowed to fire except on a command given by their officer
16. A warning shot in the air or firing over the heads of the crowd is not permitted
17. An armed force should maintain a safe distance from a dangerous crowd to prevent being overwhelmed, or increasing the chances of inflicting heavy casualties
18. Aim should be kept low and directed at the most threatening part of the crowd
19. Firing should cease the moment the crowd show signs of dispersing
20. All help should be rendered to convey the wounded to the hospital
21. Police officers must not leave the scene of disturbance before satisfying themselves beyond reasonable doubt about the restoration of tranquility

22. An accurate diary of all incidents, orders and action along with the time of occurrence should be maintained by the police. This will include an individual report by all officers involved in the firing.
23. The number of fired cartridges and the balance of unfired cartridges should be verified to ensure ammunition is accounted for.
How is it then that young and brave women leaders are treated with such brutality by the Uttar Pradesh Police? We urge that not only a notice be issued, but an overall examination of trhe conduct of the Uttar Pradesh Police with its citizenry is initiated by the NHRC.
Just over the past two months in Lilasi village in the Sonbhadra district, Adivasi women were brutally manhandled by the police, for which the NHRC has issued a notice to the SP and DM after a complaint by the All India Union of Forest Working Peoples (AIUFWP) and CJP.
The right to peaceful assembly including for the purposes of a protest has been found by the courts to be a fundamental right, traceable to the freedom of speech and expression under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Indian Constitution[1] as held by the Supreme Court in several landmark rulings (Ramlila Maidan Incident and the Kerala High Court in Peoples’ Council for Social Justice v. State of Kerala). 
In one of these, a Full Bench of the Kerala High Court considered a writ petition in which reliefs were sought against the State to ensure that all demonstrations and public processions within the Cochin area were carried out without obstructing free movement and pedestrian traffic. 
The High Court observed that the right to assemble and protest was recognized by the Constitution and laid down certain directions for the conduct of public demonstrations/protests, including the giving of advance notice to the highest Police Officer of the district in which the protest was proposed.
The Supreme Court has also held that the State “cannot abridge or take away the right of assembly by prohibiting assembly on every public street or public place” but “can only make regulations in aid of the right of assembly of each citizen and can only impose reasonable restrictions in the interests of public order.” 
It was also held that it was acceptable for the regulatory authority to require that parties secure prior permission before holding a public meeting on a public street for “the right which flows from Article 19(1)(b) is not a right to hold a meeting at any place and time. It is a right which can be regulated in the interest of all so that all can enjoy the right.”
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Slightly abridged. Read original memorandum HERE

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