Delhi Police Under Fire for Suppressing Free Speech and Assembly in India

Campaign Against State Repression Condemns "Undemocratic" Actions of Cops
Gandhi Peace Foundation
Gandhi Peace Foundation

New Delhi— In the World Press Freedom Index ranking of 2022, India had ranked 150. The report was strongly disputed by the government and some government-friendly quarters in the media. However, recent police action in Delhi has justified the abysmal ranking of Indian media. According to a press release by the Campaign Against State Repression, the Delhi Police got an event titled "Media Blackout and State Repression in Kashmir" cancelled, that was scheduled for 15th March.

Frivolous pretext of Law and Order Situation

The program, which was to be held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, was to address the question of "continuing harassment and incarceration of journalists" in order to suppress the grim realities of Kashmir. However, the Delhi Police declined to give permission for the event on the frivolous pretext of a "Law and Order" situation. The reason cited for cancelling the event was that the program was being organized by "anonymous groups" and that the information of participants and the organisers could not be ascertained by the police.

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The claim of the police that the "information regarding the participants and the organisers could not be ascertained" holds no water as the speakers included Documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak, senior journalist Anil Chamadia, Former Chairperson of DUTA (Delhi University Teachers Union) Nandita Narain, and former Jammu and Kashmir High Court judge Hussain Masoodi amongst others.

The statement released by the organization 'strongly condemned' the undemocratic act of the Brahminical Hindutva Fascist State Machinery.

Nandita Narain, former DUTA Chairperson
Nandita Narain, former DUTA Chairperson

Criticizing the Delhi Police action, Nandita Narain, former DUTA Chairperson who was also one of the speakers, said that "it is wrong to say that an anonymous group had booked the hall. There is a whole group of teachers, students, and organizations called Campaign Against State Repression". She said that "This is so telling about the state of free speech in this country, which incidentally was the topic of the panel discussion as well. This more than anything else exemplifies what the theme was about, that we really don't have any free speech left in the country."

Sanjay Kak, an eminent documentary filmmaker who was one of the speakers at the event said, "It is out of such authoritarian steps that the abhorrent silence around the situation in Kashmir has been constructed. It's important for people to take note that this silencing does not – and will not – stop at discussions of Kashmir alone: it has already fallen on various expressions of democratic rights in India."

Puneet, a student of Delhi University and Member of Youth Swaraj
Puneet, a student of Delhi University and Member of Youth Swaraj

Eyewitness accounts of the cancellation

Puneet, a student of Delhi University and Member of Youth Swaraj, informed that Campaign Against State Repression is an umbrella group of 32 organisations. "We had booked a hall at Gandhi Peace Foundation on 28th Feb. Yesterday, some police officials called me seeking information about the programme and I duly shared the press note, which I had shared with the media, with all the information with them. But today at 12 PM, just 2 hours before the scheduled time of the programme, I received a letter sent by the IP State Police Station to the Gandhi Peace Foundation. The letter mentioned that there are some "anonymous people" in this programme, which could threaten the "law and order" situation and therefore you are requested to cancel the booking" Puneet said.

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He asked what the police were doing during the last 14 days, and only at the last moment they are asking about the organizers and pressurizing the Gandhi Peace Foundation to cancel the booking.

Sangeeta, one of the participants in the event, told The Mooknayak that they were on their way to the venue when they got to know that the event had been cancelled. People who had reached the venue told them that the police had barricaded the area and informed them that the event had been cancelled due to "law and order" issues. She added that the police had also prevented people from taking photographs of the cancelled venue.

Police tactics and lessons learned

It appears that the police had cancelled another event, named "Bharat Bachao," which was supposed to be held on 11th and 12th March using similar grounds of an anonymous group. However, the organizers of that event approached the high court and managed to hold the event. Deepak, one of the organizers of the cancelled event, shared copies of the letters issued by the police in both cases and pointed out that the reason cited and even the language used in both letters were the same. He also mentioned that the police cancelled their event just two hours before the scheduled time, unlike the previous event, so they would not have time to approach the court. However, the organizers plan to approach the court before organizing the same event again to prevent any last-minute cancellations.

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