Farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders against the three agricultural laws are once again victims – this time to the wrath of the Supreme Court. On September 30, while hearing a petition from a single mother who complained that it takes her two hours instead of 20 minutes to get to Noida, the court observed that public roads and highways cannot be permanently blocked. The next day, another chamber of the Supreme Court was even more scathing in its observations against the farmers. The applicant in front of the said bench was the Kisan Mahapanchayat, asking for permission to organize a peaceful demonstration in Jantar Mantar. The judiciary is said to have declared: “There is no question of organizing demonstrations when you appear in court. You have strangled the whole city, and now you want to enter the city and organize demonstrations ”. With the greatest respect for the members of the two banks, they are not very charitable towards the farmers.
The aforementioned observations of the Supreme Court are totally at odds with what a bench chaired by then Chief Justice SA Bobde said on December 17, 2020: Farmers have the constitutional right to pursue their protests as long as their dissent did not sink into violence. He further observed “we are clarifying that this tribunal will not interfere with the protests in question. Indeed, the right to demonstrate is part of a fundamental right and can be exercised subject to public order. Should the Supreme Court be seen as speaking with different voices?
No one has claimed that farmers are a threat to public order. The Haryana government fired the first salvo against farmers by erecting barricades at the Haryana-Delhi border, digging the highway and using force including tear gas and water cannons to keep them from rolling. enter Delhi. Samyukt Kisan Morcha says as many as 248 farmers have died in just 87 days after the protests. There are unconfirmed reports of more than 600 dead. How many police officers died at the hands of farmers? Fortunately, none. This shows that the farmers’ protests have been peaceful.
From our struggle for freedom, history is full of examples of turmoil and dharnas in public places. In the recent past, Anna Hazare’s India anti-corruption movement was empowered to Jantar Mantar. Likewise, Ramdev was allowed to hold his sit-in at Ramlila Maidan. The farmers have also applied for permission to meet in Ramlila Maidan or Jantar Mantar, but to date they have not been granted permission. Why are farmers treated differently? Should they protest and walk through the air?
When they arrived at the roadblocks, the farmers repeated over and over again that they did not want to cause any inconvenience to the public. They allege that it is the police who are blocking entry and exit points in certain places to discredit their movement. Did the SC consider this before blaming the farmers? The court said it was concerned about the inconvenience of a commuter, but what about farmers? Why no empathy for them, given that they braved the scorching heat and freezing winter, rains, hail and storms for almost a year?
The government has also shown no inclination to resume dialogue with farmers. In this context, what comes to mind are the words of Martin Luther King, in a letter from Birmingham prison to fellow clergy who had opposed his organizing protests in Birmingham. . “You may well ask, why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so on? Isn’t negotiation a better way? You are quite right to call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the exact aim of direct action. Nonviolent Direct Action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. He seeks to dramatize the problem so that it can no longer be ignored. “
The SC says there is no question of protesting when farmers have come to court. Considering the fact that farmers have been restless since November 2020 and that the case has received national and international attention, has the tribunal shown any urgency to hear the petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the three? agricultural laws? It is believed that the committee appointed by the SC submitted its report in March 2021 under seal. Why is the SC sitting on the report? When will its findings be released to the public?
In conclusion, let’s treat farmers with dignity and respect. And let’s not cut off the hand that feeds us.
The writer is a former Delhi High Court judge