UP hoardings naming alleged rioters stay up, despite Supreme Court’s refusal to stay high court order to take them down. Those on the billboards say friends avoid them, lives are in a mess and at stake
Lucknow: Since his photo, along with 56 others, was pasted on hoardings erected on 5 March 2020 across the capital of India’s most-populous state, poet and theatre director Deepak Kabir has been flooded with calls from friends and acquaintances.
Some advised him to delete his photograph from his Facebook profile to avoid getting into more trouble. Some deleted photos on social media with Kabir, 44, and others simply avoided him.
“I am not saying that they (those deleting his photos) are doing anything wrong,” said Kabir, a bearded, swarthy man who usually wears a golf cap. “In my opinion they are only saving themselves because everyone wants to be safe and secure. My teenage son in school is also being looked at as if he has done something wrong.”
“Not just financially, but emotionally also we have been facing a lot,” said Kabir after a 21-day jail term. He was arrested on 20 December 2019, on 18 criminal charges and released 21 days later on a bond of Rs 50,000. Kabir has no previous criminal record but is now charged with a slew of crimes, including attempted murder, rioting, damaging government property.
“Things at home are a mess,” said Kabir.
Hours after the Supreme Court echoed what the Allahabad High Court had said on 9 March, 2020, and admonished the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government saying that there was no law that allowed the state to erect hoardings listing the pictures of 57 alleged “rioters” who took part in protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), along with their names and addresses, the hoardings at major road crossings in Lucknow stayed up.
The apex court refused to stay the Allahabad High Court judgement—which meant, as some said, that the hoardings must come down—and referred the case to a three-judge bench. “The wrong-doer (sic) must be brought to book. But can the state go beyond that?” Justice U U Lalit observed, asking if the state government has the power to put up such hoardings.
Lawyers representing the state government said the hoardings would remain for now, as the case had been referred to a larger bench.
“Our team of legal experts is looking into the matter,” said Mrityunjay Kumar, the chief advisor to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. He refused further comment.
As the hoardings stayed up, and the state government seemingly intent on keeping them there, the trauma of those named and shamed is likely to continue.
Kabir said he was looking for protestors missing from their homes—later found arrested by the police—and was himself detained when he inquired about their whereabouts at police station on 20 December 2019.
‘Our Lives Have Been Put At Risk’
“This is an invitation given by the government to act,” said Sadaf Jafar, a Congress workers and the only woman on the hoardings. “Now people know our address and know how we look. Is this not putting my life in danger? What if a mob attacks me anywhere?”
Jafar said she was worried about who would look after her two children if something happened to her, and she was worried about her future. “The worst part is that the Constitution of India which I taught to my students is being used against us,” said Jafar, “And this is really disheartening for me.”
“I am a single mother. I have already been jailed for a peaceful protest and assaulted badly,” said Jafar, 44, who was arrested on 19 December, 2019 and now has 18 criminal cases against her. “I know how many difficulties I am going to face. I also know that I will not get a job easily, as now a criminal case has been lodged against me and people who earlier cared for us have now started avoiding me.”
“Our information is made public for mobs brainwashed with radical nationalism,” said Kabir. “We can be lynched, our houses can be attacked, and our lives have been put at risk by the government.”
‘Just wanted to demoralise property destroyers’
Kumar said the objective of the hoardings was to demoralise people from indulging in any activity where public property can be damaged. “All the protocols were followed before the decision was taken and concerned officers decided to do it.”
The district administration and the Lucknow Police refused to meet this reporter and did not answer phone calls.
Asked who would be accountable if something happened to the individuals whose pictures have appeared on the hoardings, Kumar said, “In the land of Yogiji no one is allowed to take law and order in hand. It is not Delhi, it is Uttar Pradesh. Nothing will be done to anyone.”
Robin Verma, a teacher at the Shia Post Graduate College in Lucknow whose picture is also on the hoardings said he was beaten while in the custody of the police, who he alleged, threatened to “destroy” his family and “ruin” his life.
“Now that threat seems to be becoming a reality,” said Verma.
The Allahabad High Court on 24 February, 2020 had stayed a recovery notice order against four protestors saying the Supreme Court was looking at the similar notice order in a different case.
The Hoardings Stay Up
Erected at several major road intersections, the hoardings carry the pictures, names and addresses of alleged “rioters” who were part of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and say those named must compensate the government for allegedly damaging public property during the protest.
On 9 March, the Allahabad High Court directed the district magistrate, the commissioner of police, and the Lucknow Commissionerate to remove the banners saying that it was clear the state’s action was “nothing but an unwarranted interference in privacy of people” and a violation of Article 21—the protection of life and personal liberty—of the Indian constitution.
“The State of Uttar Pradesh is directed not to place such banners on road side (sic) containing personal data of individuals without having authority of law,” the High Court ruled. “A report of satisfactory compliance is required to be submitted by the District Magistrate, Lucknow to the Registrar General of this Court on or before 16 March, 2020. On receiving such a compliance report, the proceedings of this petition shall stand closed.”
“…no law is in existence permitting the State to place the banners with personal data of the accused from whom compensation is to be charged. The legitimate goal as held by the Supreme Court in the case of K.S. Puttaswamy (supra) the proposed action must be necessary for a democratic society for a legitimate aim. On scaling, the act of the State in the instant matter, we do not find any necessity for a democratic society for a legitimate aim to have publication of personal data and identity. The accused persons are the accused from whom some compensation is to be recovered and in no manner they are fugitive,” the court added while ordering the immediate removal of the hoardings and directing the state to submit a report by 16 March.
The Uttar Pradesh government challenged the Allahabad HC order.
In the Supreme Court, senior advocate Dr A.M. Singhvi, appearing for former IPS officer S.R. Darapuri whose name was published on a banner, submitted that the action of the state government amounted to an “appeal for lynching”. Singhvi added that even the names of child rapists and serious criminals were not published.
On 12 March 2020, after the Supreme Court judgement, the hoardings were untouched.
Lawyer Plans To Petition Vacation Bench
Ashma Izzat, who helped several protestors get bail after they were arrested following the 19 December anti-CAA protest, said that she was going to file a writ petition against the hoardings in the vacation bench of the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court.
“Putting up the hoardings is a violation of human and constitutional rights,” said Izzat, who said the UP government had violated the right to privacy and public image and defamed all those named and shamed. None of those named were absconding, and the cases were in court.
“It is the duty of the court, not that of the police, to pronounce criminality,” said Izzat. “The police can only press charges, and they should prove their charges in the court.”
At an interaction with the media, Shia leader Maulana Saif Abbas, a cleric whose picture also featured on the hoarding, said that he and senior officials of the district administration were present at the scene to help tourists who happened to be visiting the Bara Imambara, a Mughal monument, during that time.
He said the administration had no proof of his involvement in the violence that broke out. “It is very sad to know that even when I am yet to receive any kind of notice, my pictures are there on hoardings all over the city,” he said.
“Not a single stone was pelted (thrown) in front of Bara Imambara where I was present, even the Superintendent of Police (City) and Additional District Magistrate were present on the spot. This is all done due to petty politics,” he added.
Similarly, Kalbe Sibtain Noori, the son of Shia leader Kalbe Sadiq, said he would take up the issue in the court.
He stated that he, along with several others, were termed as rioters by the government, whereas they were there to help tourists and protest peacefully.
(Saurabh Sharma is an independent journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com.)