The Allahabad High Court’s order to the Lucknow administration and the city police to remove the hoardings and banners displaying the photographs and personal details of 53 persons who had protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act is an affirmation of the right to privacy and the right to due process of law of every citizen. After this snub, the Uttar Pradesh cabinet has approved the “UP Recovery of Damage to Public Properties Ordinance, 2020” for recovery of losses due to damage to government and private properties during political processions.The decision in this regard was taken by a cabinet meeting chaired by chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Friday evening. The 53 are persons accused of vandalism by the administration during the protests in December, but by putting up their names and profiles on street corners the administration is treating them like convicted criminals. This is in accordance with the intent of the Yogi Adityanath government to treat anti-government criticism and protests as anti-national acts and punish protesters in harsh ways without going through legally laid down procedures. The government’s disregard for legality is well-known as it has encouraged the award of arbitrary and summary punishment, including killings in staged encounters by the police, of people after branding them as criminals. In the present instance, some of the protesters named and shamed are civil rights activists and opposition leaders. The High Court, which took notice suo motu of the display of banners, has admonished the authorities in strong terms, condemned it as “undemocratic’’ and called it a “colourable exercise of power by the executive.’’
It also held that it was an “unwarranted interference’’ in people’s privacy, and a violation of the fundamental right under Article 21. The Supreme Court has upheld the right in its landmark 2017 judgement and later, but its value and importance has to be affirmed again and again in the face of blatant attacks on it by governments. The court reminded the government that public display of the names, photographs and other details of persons who are only accused of an offence is wrong and illegal unless they are fugitives from justice. The Yogi Adityanath government certainly needed lessons in the basic principles of the rule of law, but the question is whether it will learn the court’s lesson. Going by its decision to appeal the order and its record of similar actions and decisions, it will not. The vacation bench of the Supreme Court has referred the matter to a larger bench. The vacation bench has not stayed the High Court order.
The public display of names and photographs was also intended to humiliate the protesters, and it amounted to a lynching of reputations by the government. Such actions are dangerous because they might be seen as giving official sanction to violence against the protesters and could prompt people to take the law into their hands and target them in their homes or on the streets. The consequences can well be imagined in a state which has seen many public lynchings, with the tacit blessings of the government.