The Uttar Pradesh government’s recent move to put up hoardings and banners with photographs and personal data of the citizens who had protested against the new citizenship law compromised their privacy and reeked of vindictiveness. It imperiled the safety of protesters, who have been vilified by top functionaries of the government as “anti-national”. Hence, it is reassuring that the Allahabad High Court took suo motu cognisance and called the government’s move illegal. The government has decided to challenge the order of the two-member bench of the HC, led by Chief Justice Govind Mathur, in the Supreme Court. The insistence of the Adityanath administration in persisting with its unlawful move underlines its intolerance of protest and dissent.
The new citizenship act (CAA) has been contested by large sections of the citizenry on the legitimate ground that it discriminates against the Muslim minority. Protests have been organised across the country against the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens. Many non-BJP governments have responded positively to these mostly peaceful mobilisations, which invoke the Indian Constitution and feature the national flag and anthem. In contrast, the UP government has been visibly and viciously hostile to the anti-CAA protests. The state saw large-scale violence last December and a brutal police crackdown — in which at least 18 people died — and hundreds of people were arrested on charges ranging from inciting violence and arson to sedition. Many were released on bail since the police could not produce the evidence in court to corroborate its claims. The administration has been indiscriminately issuing notices to persons suspected of vandalism during the anti-CAA protests and seeking compensation for the loss of public property. It is in this toxic environment that the government has sought to publicly name and shame the dissenters — among the 50-plus persons highlighted in hoardings are retired IPS officer S R Darapuri, civil rights activist Mohammed Shoaib, and theatre personality Deepak Kabir.
In a state that has witnessed public lynchings and where the police is accused of violating due process by encounters, the government’s act of branding people in this manner is fraught with danger. As the Allahabad HC said, the measure “reflects colourable exercise of powers by the Executive”, “is nothing but an unwarranted interference in privacy of people”, and, hence, “in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution”. The government must listen to the HC’s censure and retrace its steps.