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And now, dissent is a polluter?

Located a stroll away from the Parliament, Jantar Mantar is the most convenient platform for both the ruling party and the Opposition to feel the pulse of the nation. To ban it for dissenters, on the plea of noise pollution, is not a wise move.
Brig Gurinder Singh & Col Dilbag Dabas
WE have all heard the story of Emperor Jahangir’s Bell of Justice (Adl-e-Jahangir). Anyone who felt aggrieved, could seek justice by ringing the bell. It is said that the gravity of the crime was indicated by the number of times the bell was struck and, accordingly, the executive appointed a munsif (judge) to adjudicate the matter. Importantly, the bell was so located where the Emperor and his council could also hear its sound in the court.
Everyone loves the stories of justice-loving kings, be it 16th century Jahangir or the first century BC King Vikramaditya who often went in disguise to get first-hand information about his praja (public). The bedrock of justice is the availability of opportunity to the distressed to be heard. The strength of governance of an organisation or a nation lies in the robustness of its grievance redress system.
Jantar Mantar
In 1993, the government banned agitations at the Boat Club. Since then, Jantar Mantar, not far from the seat of power in New Delhi, has been the most preferred location for such protests. Every day, this place is thronged by angry Indians, aggrieved Indians, wronged Indians, marginalised Indians, exploited Indians, Indians considered children of a lesser God — young and old, individuals and groups, political and apolitical. They vent their ire and express dissent, on certain state policies which they feel need correction.
The actual protest site is approximately 350-metre long stretch of Jantar Mantar Road connecting Ashok Road with Tolstoy Marg. There is no residential complex beyond Kerala House. The historic solar observatory, known also as Jantar Mantar, which stands astride Sansad Marg, has been a mute witness to the everyday celebration of our thriving democracy. For almost a quarter century, this road has showcased protests of government employees, tribals, farmers, traders, homebuyers, military veterans, and followers of different babas/swamis. And there are also demonstrations sponsored by political parties, both in favour and against the government of the day, which are usually marked by uniformity of banners and placards, party colour scarves/caps and elaborate arrangements of food packages for the participants brought in buses. The number of protesters goes up during the weekends and especially when the Parliament is in session.
A walk in this area brings you face to face with diversity of our society; a mini Bharat as well as a mini India. Unlike elsewhere in the country, despite animated speeches and sloganeering by the protesters, the demonstrations at Jantar Mantar remain within the restrictions of time and space laid down by the Delhi Police. By the evening, the place is quiet, except for a few small groups huddled together.
Democracy & dissent
Democracy is the most acceptable form of governance because it gives a citizen the right to dissent without being victimised. It is meant to be a living form of the government which listens to alternative opinions, reasons them out and often embraces them. Disagreement is important to bring about a change for the better. In fact, democracy and dissent go hand in hand.
The Anna Hazare and India Against Corruption protest for ‘Jan Lokpal Bill’ at Jantar Mantar in 2011 has been the most iconic in recent times. It catapulted the BJP to be a contender to grab power from the UPA and mid-wifed the birth of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Propelled by these dissensions at Jantar Mantar, both the BJP and AAP came to power through peaceful elections, a hallmark of our democracy.
Protests at Jantar Mantar in the wake of the Nirbhaya case in 2012 led to a revision of laws related to crime against women.
Failing Opposition
The Opposition’s main role in a democracy is to question the government and hold it accountable to the public and uphold the best interests of the people. In a parliamentary democracy, the Opposition parties must act steadfastly on behalf of common masses fighting for their common interest and grievances. However, recently , the Opposition has largely abdicated its responsibility of fighting for the public’s demands. Located a stroll away from the Parliament, Jantar Mantar is the most convenient platform for both the government and Opposition to feel the nation’s pulse.
Noise pollution
Now a munsif in the form of National Green Tribunal (NGT) has struck down the bell of Adl-e-Jahagiri on the premise that it makes sound, which is not good for the health of the public. As many as 24 years after this place became the venue for dissent, it has now been discovered that the noise emanating from Jantar Mantar pollutes the capital city the most and it may become music if shifted to the Ram Lila Ground or elsewhere. It is ironical that the judiciary has decried to shift the dissenters’ spot to a place where the noises cease to pollute the capital’s environs.
Long ago, elebrated Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad ‘Faiz’ described such situation as, “Baneyhain ahel-e-hawas muddai bhi, munsif bhi; Kise wakil karen, kis se munsifi chahen?” (Facing those power crazed that both prosecute and judge, wonder, to whom does one turn for protection, from whom does one expect justice?).
In four weeks from now, you may not see the aggrieved farmers from Tamil Nadu, defence veterans, environmentalists, religious groups, students, government/private employees and others at Jantar Mantar. Because the agitators are condemned out of the audible range of power-that-be, as this noise contamination is dangerous. One may argue that the right to speech is still not under threat.
But New Delhi’s age-old tryst with dissent may finally be chocked, allegedly by its own noise pollution. The government of the day will undoubtedly be doing itself a disservice if it does not listen to Kabir, the legendary15th century mystic poet and saint from Banaras who said, “Nindakniyare rakhiye aangan kutich hawaye; Bin sabun pani bin anirmal karat subhaye.” (Keep your critic close to you; give him shelter in your courtyard. Without soap and water he cleanses your character). But how will you listen to dissent if it is banished from earshot?

About Jatin Kamboj