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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Reassessing the farmers’ protest in Bharat

The nationwide Farmers’ protest in Bharat completes a month on the 26th of December 2020. The demands of farmers against three farm bills passed by the Government of Bharat, later on becoming laws on 28th September 2020, and the protests, however, are not slowing down.

The most adamant demand by the farmers that has turned the whole talks between two parties upside down is the one for the complete repeal of laws. The entire nation seems to be divided due to this protest while one section is calling the protest anti-national the other is branding it as anger against the apathy towards farmers by the current dispensation at the center.

However, the point which seems to be missing in the discussion is whether or not the means employed by the protesters are legitimate and standing with the postulates of morality as have been portrayed. The magic words ‘Chalo Delhi’ used by Subhash Chandra Bose in his fight against British Raj have been metaphorically roped into this struggle by farmers to convey that the fight is against the central government which is as cruel as the then British Government in Bharat.

It is becoming a fashion nowadays to employ tactics like a roadblock and sieging an area for an indefinite period of time however, the most pathetic is the fact that these completely illegal means have been legitimized by branding them as Gandhian peaceful struggle, therefore necessity has arisen to root out a myth that the illegitimate ways of protests were introduced by Mahatma Gandhi. Secondly, it is also necessary to find out what does judicial pronouncements state on these methods of protests.

Gandhiji and idea of Satyagraha

Gandhian way of Civil Disobedience or Satyagraha is not reactionary in nature but it is a struggle with oneself also for the betterment of soul and the purpose of this undertaking is to reach the truth. The fundamental flaw in any struggle after independence barring a few has been premised on the infallibility of protestors and that is not a Satyagraha or Gandhian way of agitation.

The traits of Civil Disobedience or Satyagraha have been elaborately narrated by Mahatma Gandhi in his ‘The practice of Satyagraha or Civil Disobedience’ he states:

“A non-co-operation strives to compel attention and to set an example not by his violence, but by his unobtrusive humility. He allows his solid action to speak for his creed. His strength lies in his reliance upon the correctness of his position. And the conviction of it grows most in his opponent when he least interposes his speech between his action and his opponent. Speech, especially when it is haughty, betrays the want of confidence and it makes one’s opponent skeptical about the reality of the act itself. Humility, therefore, is the key to quick success. I hope that every non-co-operationist will recognize the necessity of being humble and self-restrained.”  

Judging protesting farmers by Gandhiji’s ideology with regard to Satyagrahi would lay bare their falsehood. The protestors are not interested in unobtrusive humility rather their speech is haughty and therefore betrays self-restraint. They are not interested in talks but want to foist their demands on the government. Protesters purposefully neglect the fact that they have not obtained support from all corners of the country and their protest is restricted to farmers from specific states or pockets of the country hence it is bluff to call it a nationwide protest.

In his fantastic essay on Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha Mr. Ramananda Choudhurie states as follows;

Satyagraha as conceived by Gandhi is not a formula of social and political disintegration. A satyagrahi must have first rendered willing obedience to the laws of the state. Gandhi writes: “a satyagrahi obeys the laws of the society intelligently and of his own freewill because he considers it to be his sacred duty to do so. It is only when a person has thus obeyed the laws of society scrupulously that he is in a position to judge as to which particular rules are good and just and which are unjust and iniquitous and only then does the right accrue to him of the civil disobedience of certain laws in well-defined circumstances.” Gandhi claimed to have been by nature law-abiding. The capacity for civil resistance comes from the discipline undergone in the process of obeying the civil and moral laws of the state. A satyagrahi while resisting the laws of the government should see that the social structure is not subverted.”

The essence of Satyagraha is obedience towards law and order. A person is therefore entitled to Satyagraha only after getting convinced about the evil nature of law which he has followed scrupulously and primary duty of Satyagrahi is not to disturb a social structure however protesters in the garb of farmers are regularly resorting to Rasta roko, Chakka Jam causing disturbance to the social structure and hence by these two parameters farmers agitation is mere hogwash of peaceful resistance or Satyagraha.

Illegal agitations are unsustainable

News of highway blockage and Rasta Roko have been reduced to an instrument of blackmailing by protestors they are using these order disturbing methods as weapons to perforce their demands on government. The clear agenda is to create copious hardships for the people so that the general public through the media and other means would mount pressure on the government not because they have empathy or sympathy with the cause of farmers but to relieve their own snags borne out of this agitation.

The right to peaceful gathering and protest is a fundamental right but qualified with certain restrictions. Maintenance of public order and contempt of court is one of them. On both these criteria farmers’ agitation fails miserably. Blockage of roads causes a lot of inconvenience to the citizens, it also affects the economic balance of the country.

After the pronouncement of judgment by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Amit Sahni v Commissioner of Police & others known as Shahin Bagh judgment in general parlance blocking public spaces for an indefinite period has become an unconstitutional act and therefore the state could rightly initiate stern measures against protesters.

It is necessary to quote some of the passages from the Shahin Bagh judgment, for a better understanding of judicial wisdom on the subject.

“…while appreciating the existence of the right to peaceful protest against a legislation (keeping in mind the words of Pulitzer Prize winner, Walter Lippmann, who said “In a democracy, the opposition is not only tolerated as constitutional but must be maintained because it is indispensable”), we have to make it unequivocally clear that public ways and public spaces cannot be occupied in such a manner and that too indefinitely. Democracy and dissent go hand in hand, but then the demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone. The present case was not even one of the protests taking place in an undesignated area but was a blockage of a public way which caused grave inconvenience to commuters. We cannot accept the plea of the applicants that an indeterminable number of people can assemble whenever they choose to protest Justice K.K. Mathew in the Himat Lal case had eloquently observed that “Streets and public parks exist primarily for other purposes and the social interest promoted by the untrammeled exercise of freedom of utterance and assembly in the public street must yield to the social interest which prohibition and regulation of speech are designed to protect. But there is a constitutional difference between reasonable regulation and arbitrary exclusion.”

……We have, thus, no hesitation in concluding that such kind of occupation of public ways, whether at the site in question or anywhere else for protests is not acceptable and the administration ought to take action to keep the areas clear of encroachments or obstructions”

Court obligated administration to clear public places which are encroached upon by the agitators therefore center is fully empowered rather than compelled to invoke all necessary measure to clear public places including a reasonable force if necessary. The duty of the executive is always to maintain law and order and not to be meek before violators but the word ‘peaceful protest’ has become so sanctimonious that no one dares to touch even the self-proclaimed Gandhians whether or not they stood the test of Gandhism.

Bharatiya association with Mahatma Gandhi and his style of rousing the valid issues is an age-old one, but its purity and originality are under threat therefore judiciary has made a timely intervention in this context. Dressing each and every passive resistance as a Gandhian way with an intention to gain public support and moral force for the agitation is the leitmotif, however, most of the times it turns out as a distortion of the Gandhian way and sometimes has a smack of violence in the view of Gandhian exposition on violence.

Therefore, the urge of common Bharatiya to central government is to negotiate with the agitators for the benefit of the community at large and not for the interests of narrow-minded rabble-rousers who are neither Satyagrahis nor law-abiding citizens.

– Shrijeet Phadke





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