For those afraid of too much freedom of expression following the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing the public to gather at Jantar Mantar, Parliament Street and Boat Club, there’s nothing to worry about. Now, thanks to Delhi Police’s draft guidelines to regulate protests, those moved by the heat of political passion, of anger or sadness at the many injustices and iniquities around them, or even by the selfishness of sectional interest, must display a military orderliness. At Jantar Mantar, no more than 1,000 protesters will be allowed and if more than 100 people exercise their right to free association at Boat Club Road, they may have to see the inside of a jail cell.
The Delhi Police test for the ideal protest doesn’t end with numbers alone. The citizen must not display her displeasure by burning effigies or documents, and littering — the lazy recourse of anarchist anti-Swachh Bharatists — will also lead to being blacklisted. The justification for these guidelines seem understandable: The disruptions to traffic, the irritation of loudspeakers, and the sheer numbers of the disappointed that sometimes throng the designated areas of protest, so close to the seats of power, can sometimes represent a public order nightmare.
Perhaps disgruntled citizens should thank the police for resolving a contradiction. Organising protests has always been a problem, an act of taking emotional outrage and fitting it into a time-frame and space. Now, challenging the powers-that-be will be no different from a school trip to the capital to see the sights and sounds. No loudspeakers, or littering, no playing with fire, no “huge emotional outbursts” that disturb the equilibrium of civic life in the megapolis. Becoming the ideal protester is simple — just do as you are told to do.