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Protests: A haven for Fundamental Rights or has India slowly drifted to Ochlocracy?

Abstract: A country with a population of over 1.3 billion that claims to be a secular, a democratic and a provider for equality before the law. A country with the longest constitution in the world that furnishes its citizens with the right to life, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of speech to name a few. But does it really? Does the largest democracy of the world really bestow its native with the Fundamental Rights all across its boundaries or has it been congregated to a particular area? Has the resident of almost all major religions of the world suddenly become a single-religion unit? Or has the time come for the political doctrine of anacyclosis to overthrow Democracy?


Aristotle in his political theory mentions the term Kyklos, which is a term used by Greek authors to describe what they perceived as the political cycle of governments in a society. Although it was basically based on the history of Greek cities and states of the same period, the cycle has somehow found its way to the recent political conditions in India. As per the cycle, different forms of government are continuously in motion and while one stays at the top of that wheel and crushes the other, sooner or later the wheel turns, and the one at the top is left to be crushed at the bottom.

In the theory, he mentions six various forms of governments, namely Democracy, Ochlocracy, Aristocracy, Oligarchy, Monarchy and Tyranny. While one may be aware of most of them, the term Ochlocracy and Oligarchy would not be so obvious for many of us. Although there is not much difference between them as the number of people involved in their particular form of government distinguishes between them. An oligarchy is a form of government or a power structure in which the authority or power rests with a small number of people. These people in power are so distinguished on the basis of nobility, wealth, education, corporate, religious political or military control. Ochlocracy differs from oligarchy as it is a form of government that is run and managed by populace or simply put, mob rule. It is that rule of government which uses not only mass of people to frighten or force but also the fear of legitimate authorities are used so as to get the work done as and how the government wants.

Relevance of the theory in India:

Aristotle depicted this cycle in a very particular diagram, as shown in diagram 1. In that, he mentions that Democracy is always followed by Ochlocracy, Ochlocracy is followed by Aristocracy, Aristocracy is followed by Oligarchy, Oligarchy is followed by Monarchy, and once the Monarch runs mad with power, it follow suits with Tyranny. After a period of time, when someone puts an end to its tyranny, it is followed by Democracy again. And this cycle continues inevitably.

In India, one would fail to determine the current form of government ruling the nation. The present political situation, as it stands, has a mixture of Ochlocracy and Oligarchy. Some would even argue that a little hint of Tyranny can also be seen. But, following Aristotle’s theory, the appropriate conclusion would be that India has slowly started to become an Ochlocracy. But even with that consideration, one would miserably fail to identify as to who is the ochlocrat and who is not in the present scenario. There are people in power who have used various methods under the form of government of Ochlocracy to get what they want, putting aside even the foundation stones of the Constitution of India. And then there are people, citizens of the country, who have gone against the so called government and abided by their own rules and regulations and have tried to compel the officials acting in their official authority. And here lays the biggest question of them all, does the ruling government of a nation has the authorization to not only question but also invalidate the basic fundamental rights of a citizen while also questioning their license of being a citizen? And does the citizen of a nation have the sanction to break various rules and laws under the impression of protecting his or her right as a citizen?

Continuum of Shaheen Bagh:

During the peaceful sit-in protest at Shaheen Bagh, where thousands of citizens, under the question of even being a citizen, gathered to oppose the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in both houses of Parliament on 11 December 2019 and the ensuing police intervention against the students at the Jamia Milia Islamia University who too were opposing the Amendment. Other factors of the protest included police brutality, unemployment, and poverty and women safety. The protest had more than a hundred volunteers, including students and professionals from Delhi. These volunteers organised themselves around various issues and tasks around the area such as setting up makeshift stages, shelters and bedding, providing food and water and medicines, and many more. This all was funded by various donations that the protesters received from various sources.

On 2nd January 2020, some prominent volunteers of the protest withdrew and urged the protesters to dismantle the protest, as they feared that its message was being hijacked by political parties as the Delhi elections were just round the corner, which they believed would “tarnish the image of the movement” and raise the risk of violence. However, the protest continued and the protesters made it evidently clear through various social media platforms that they are not supporting any political party or their agendas. The protest became one of the longest sit-in protests with the crowds reaching as high as 1,00,000. On 31st December 2019, thousands of these protesters sang the Indian National Anthem at midnight in order to welcome the year 2020. Also, on 14th February 2020, the protesters paid homage to the 40 martyred CRPF personnel in the 2019 Pulwama Attack.

Amongst all this, various allegations were made on the protesters at Shaheen Bagh. The most prominent one was made by the ruling government’s online supporters, who made claims that the protesters were being paid. On 15th January 2020, Amit Malviya, a BJP leader and head of IT cell, tweeted a video which claimed that the women protesters had been paid Rs. 500 to 700 to sit-in. On 4th February, AltNews and Newslaundry jointly released an article in which the authenticity of the video was quashed. It was discovered that the video was orchestrated by a shop owner in his shop around South Delhi. This clearly demonstrated how the media lacked of ethical journalism and how it helped create a false narrative and a negative image of the protest.

Another issue that surrounded the protest was the continuous political war and a campaign issue for the Delhi Legislative Assembly elections. Various leaders, including the CM of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal of AAP and Home Minister of India fiercely criticized each other over their positions on the protest. Mr. Shah and Mr. Kejriwal had a huge war of words throughout their various canvassing sessions. Among other leaders, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad of the ruling government at the Centre said that Shahhen Bagh is offering a platform for “anti-India” gangs. Junior Finance Minister Parvesh Verma, also of the same government, made hateful and abusive comments about the protesters at Shaheen Bagh and announced that they would be cleared within an hour of the election results being declared on 11th February. Several leaders of the ruling government continued to make hate speeches against the protesters, including CM of Uttar Pradesh Yodi Aditynath, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma to name a few.

Amidst all this, the entire nation was divided, one side defending the protesters, the other standing against them. They all used various methods in order to attain what they wanted, be it the media, the perpetrator of the Jamia incident who shot and injured a student protester, the ruling government or the protesters themselves. But, what they all forgot or overlooked was the fact that these people, these protesters had basic rights too. And these rights, in no way, can be altered by anyone for these are provided to them by the Constitution of India.
Though the Constitution does not cogently provide these ‘protesters’ with the right to protest, the Human Rights Act does so. Under the Human Rights Act everybody has a freedom of expression and a freedom of thought and assembly. This means that everybody has a right to a peaceful protest and no restrictions shall be placed on this unless it is in the interests of national security, public safety or for the prevention of disorder or crime. The Constitution provides everyone with the Right to Freedom of Speech, but also restricts the misuse of such rights and allows action to be taken against those who use this as a weapon rather than a mean of communicating their distress. And, the Constitution also provides everyone with the Right to Life. All through this protest and the events surrounding it, everyone forgot about the rights these people had as provided by various acts and laws as well as the Constitution. No one spoke of how these people were still a citizen of the nation, and not a part of any “anti-India” gang, and hence they too enjoyed the rights bestowed upon them by the Constitution of our motherland.

In between all these hate speeches and anti-protest slogans, they forgot that the Preamble of our Constitution clearly states that our nation is a Secular, Democratic and that it also supports Equality. To be clearer, secular means that every citizen has the liberty of practicing any religion he wants to. Democratic, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, that he used during his Gettysburg address, ‘a government of the people, by the people, for the people’. And Equality states that everyone is equal before the eyes of law. But during the events that have happened during the tenure of the protest, it was evidently seen that these norms and ideals were clearly tattered and thrown away like garbage and the protesters were treated as foreign invaders who had come to loot the nation. The protest, though against the new act enacted by the government, soon turned into a religious war. Somehow, Hindus became the pronounced citizen of the country while others had to fight for it and prove that they were ‘eligible’ enough to stay within the boundaries of the nation. These protesters were treated as outcasts and were continuously harassed by those in authority.

Due to these various comments, events and the Government that suffers from hypoacusis, these protesters, mainly comprising of women, took over the road for their sit-in peaceful protest. They, without naming it so, made Shaheen Bagh the hub for protests on topics from various stages and walks of life. Their demands were not irrelevant or unconstitutional. All they demanded was a way, a mechanism to safeguard their Fundamental Rights as accorded upon them by the Constitution of India. Is it not the right time for Shaheen Bagh to be celebrated as the epicentre of the wave that awoke and enlightened everyone of how their Fundamental Rights were slowly been infringed and altered? Is it wrong to call Shaheen Bagh a haven of Fundamental Rights now that all basic rights of a citizen, who has been a nomad, walking through and by various cities of time, and have finally, found refuge here? These rights, rather than getting better by learning from its shortcomings over the passage of time, have only been lacerated and coerced? Should the knights defending these be applauded and supported or should they be hissed upon?

While the constitutionality of the protest has been established, one must also mention the various norms the protest has broken and the disruptions it has caused. The Indian Penal Code has laid down various norms that the protesters had broken over their tenure of fighting for freedom. The biggest of them all is mentioned under Section 121 of IPC, the offences against the State, which clearly states “Waging of war or attempting to wage war against the Government of India is a punishable crime” and as the protesters did entice dissatisfaction against the Government and hence, waged a war against it, they are liable under this section. Furthermore, Section 268 of IPC states that “A person is guilty of a public nuisance who does any act or is guilty of an illegal omission which causes any common injury, danger or annoyance to the public or to the people in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity, or which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger or annoyance” and since the protesters occupied and blocked a road for 101 days, they are liable to be punished under this section.

Apart from all this, one must also consider the fact that the Constitution, in Part IV, under Article 38 clearly mentions that “State to secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of the people.” Article 39A of the Constitution states that “The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.” But what does one do when the State is the one behind the disruption of the peace and tranquillity and of the social order in the country? Who should be blamed when those in power bring out such laws that impede justice and cause unsettlement in the societal norms? Who does one turn to when the government, though claiming to be a democratic, starts to work on agendas that are not so democratic? What does one do when suddenly the nation that they so gleefully boasted to be their motherland, which has the longest Constitution in the World, which claims to be a democratic suddenly, becomes an Ochlocratic State?

Good Cop- Bad Cop?

The Government has found the perfect solution to this. When the secularism or the rights of the citizens were questioned, rather than coming out and attending to the chaos, they allowed the protests to happen. The leader at the Centre came out and said that protests and criticism are the backbone of a democratic state. All the chosen representatives at various stages of the democracy accepted and asserted. Everyone agreed that the women at Shaheen Bagh should be allowed to protest. But no one paid any heed to why they were protesting, and how could their issues be resolved.

All this was nothing but a sham by the ruling Government. They wanted everyone to recognise them as the ‘good cops’ who were allowing the protesters their right to protest and freedom of speech and at the same time depicted these protesters as ‘bad cops’ who disturbed the peace and tranquillity of the Nation. And they were successful to a great extent. The entire nation was under their spell and believed that these protesters were in fact ‘anti-nationalists’. And this is where the two hidden pillars of the democracy come in.

Every 8 year old now is taught that India is a democratic state. And that a democratic state has three pillars, Legislative, Executive and Judiciary. But it takes that 8 year old over a decade and some open-mindedness to finally realise that India has not three but five pillars. The fourth being the Media and the fifth, and recently developed, being the Social Media. And these two pillars have somehow managed to shift the balance between the other three pillars and are dominating the current democratic stature.

Hannah Arendt, a German-American philosopher once said “The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed.” What one needs to analyse is whether the Indian Media is still free? Does it really provide us with the kind of information, we as citizen, are obliged to get? No matter what channel one might switch to, the media hardly questions the effects and the aftermath of the ruling government’s decisions, bills or acts. One can easily see that how the ‘free media’ has suddenly become politically motivated.

Another recent episode that took everyone by surprise was the induction of Ex-CJI Ranjan Gogoi into the Rajya Sabha. Late BJP leader Arun Jaitley in September 2013, while addressing the Council on Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2013, had said that, “The desire of a post-retirement job influences pre-retirement judgement. It is a threat to the independence of the judiciary. And once it does influences pre-retirement judgements, it adversely impacts on the functioning of our judiciary itself.” Who knew that this phrase would get so realistic in just 5 years?

After former CJI Ranjan Gogoi was nominated, everyone started to question his judgements over the cases he adjudicated. The most prominent of this was the Rafale deal, which had troubled the ruling government tremendously. The case started in October 2018 in the Supreme Court, and by the end of December 2018, the case was closed with the Government being acquitted of all charges. Another such issue was also seen in November when Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill and stated that NRC would once again be implemented throughout the country. The judgement laid down in 2005 by the Supreme Court, that struck NRC down as unconstitutional, was overruled. One could also question the involvement of a prominent personality into sowing and reaping of the seeds of NRC.

Denouement? Is it possible?

In 1947, India went through two different sets of partition experiences. One was the jubilant joy the independence of the country from the British rule provided that took over the entire nation. The other was the pain of the partition, where migrants from either side of the border had to leave their roots in order to survive. Some of these migrated by choice, while others did so by force. It has been over 70 years since these feelings enveloped the masses, and over the due course of time, the happiness has subsided, but the pain still lingers on.

Has the country been able to actually move ahead? Has it been able to forgone and forget? And if it has not, and we still cannot detach ourselves from what was, how can we move towards what we can be? From being called as the largest democracy in the world, India has recently been black-listed by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and placed it in the category of ‘countries of particular concern’ or CPC.

Although, as per Greek scholars, this cycle of Kyklos is inevitable, but is very harmful as the transitions would often be accompanied by violence and turmoil, and a larger portion of this cycle would be spent with the degenerate forms of government. Aristotle, in his theory, gave a number of options that would help slow or halt the cycle. He stated that in order to do this:

  • Even the most minor changes to basic laws and constitutions must be opposed because, over time, the small changes will add up to a complete transformation.
  • In aristocracies and democracies the tenure of rulers must be kept very short to prevent them from becoming despots.
  • The three government basic systems, that is Democracy, Aristocracy and Monarchy, can be blended into one, taking the best elements of each
  • If any one individual gains too much power, be it political, monetary, or military he should be banished from the country.
  • Judges and magistrates must never accept money to make decisions.
  • Most important to Aristotle in preserving a constitution is education: if all the citizens are aware of law, history, and the constitution they will endeavour to maintain a good government.

As per these points made by Aristotle, it seems highly impossible that India, as a nation, would ever be able to break the wheel of anacyclosis. And it is not just a hollow claim. The various circumstantial events that have happened and are still in motion only solidify the statement. These various means and methods that Aristotle gave may be tough to achieve for many nations of the world, but it seems impossible for India to attain these. This is because other nations have mostly worked upon at least two of these methods and are now working to move ahead, whereas India has slowly given up the control on the methods it had.

So, has this event taught us that the time has come for us to work on halting or slowing down the cycle, for one can easily conclude that as Aristotle predicted, violence and turmoil has already begun to take place. The basic definition of Ochlocracy can also be seen emerging slowly out of the shadows and taking over the limelight. Has the time come for those in power to rule and govern us the way they want or has the timer started as to when the mob would throw the power at the centre down from their horses and take control in their own hands? Has India really started to move towards Ochlocracy?

About the author –
This article is written by Manya Kumari, 3rd year BBA+LLB student at Galgotias University, Greater Noida

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