Why a Democracy so scared of Protests?

'Preventive Action' is being taken against activists before visits by the PM & other VVIPS.

Credit : Indie Journal


It has been around three months now since Tabrez Ali Sayyed, an Aarey activist and a resident of Powai, was exiled from Mumbai for three months. He has been slammed with externment order instructing him to avoid Mumbai City, Suburban Mumbai, Thane and Palghar during this time.

“I have not met my family, my friends. My friends are wary of hanging out with me, as they feel they might get in trouble if they do. It is all very disheartening,” says Sayyed.

This is not the first time Sayyed, a member of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and an active participant in environment-related protests in the city, has been faced with police action. He has had to fight off five FIRs, another externment order and several preventive custodies in the last couple of years. In fact, he says that almost every time Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Union Home Minister Amit Shah is visiting the city, the police make it a point to visit and detain Sayyed.

“Every time there is something happening in Aarey or someone important is coming to Mumbai, they detain me. Every time the Prime Minister or the Home Minister comes to Mumbai, they detain me. I do not know why they are so afraid of me. What am I going to do?” Sayyed questions.

Externment notices and preventive detentions were also a police and administration favourite in the protests that took place in Ratnagiri district’s Barsu-Solgaon against the proposed petrochemical refinery project. The State Government had planned a survey of the project site in the last week of April.



Heavy police deployment was made in the villages days prior to the survey days. Several prominent leaders associated with the movement faced externment notices prohibiting them from entering the Rajapur taluka, where the project site is located, for a period of over a month. Satyajit Chavan, one of the main leaders of the movement was arrested two days before the survey began.

“We have been facing cases and complaints against us since we began opposing the shifting of the refinery project in Barsu-Solgaon. Last October, externment proceedings were started against six of us, that would bar us from entering Ratnagiri district itself. Hearings for the same are still going on. Then, at the time of the survey, this year, they arrested a couple of us at first and prohibited a few more from entering Rajapur taluka,” Chavan said.

In January 2022, the Supreme Court of India said that the externment is not an ordinary measure and must be resorted to sparingly and in extraordinary circumstances, as it deprives a citizen of his/her fundamental right of free movement throughout the territory of India. However, we see its use rampant across the state in the last few years.

At least eight protesters, who lived and earned their livelihoods in the villages around the protest site, were barred from entering their taluka from April 22 to May 31, 2023, by the Rajapur Tehsil and Magistrate Offices. The externment orders were challenged in the Bombay High Court, following which, the court preserved the right of the activists to protest by asking the state to withdraw the externment notices issued to them.

“The police filed complaints against a total of 161 protesters during the agitation against the survey, Chavan adds.



The Constitution of India recognises the Right to Protest as a fundamental right of every citizen under Article 19(1)(c). It allows people to peaceably assemble to question and object to acts of the government by demonstrations, agitations and public meetings, to launch sustained protest movements. India’s freedom movement has been built on the people’s movement and the post-independence history of the country is also marked by several such people’s movements.

However, lately, we see that the vilification of the causes of such protests and the suppression of those who participate in it has become more rampant and bolder than before. The Prime Minister of the country himself referred to those involved in various people’s protests as “andolanjeevi” while speaking in the parliament a while ago.

“Every time a large protest is announced, we see that the police impose crowd control measures under section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The police take away the right of the people to protest. How can the police do that? How can they ask to impose such prohibitions even before any law and order situation emerges?” questions legal expert Nitish Nawasagaray.

Along with protesters, known activists and human rights defenders also seem to be facing a similar action in the state these days. On June 10, Rahul Pradhan, leader of Yuva Panther, a Dalit Panther outfit, was held in preventive custody by Nanded Police on the day Union Home Minister Amit Shah was scheduled to visit the city for a public meeting.

“Shah along with Home Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was in Nanded on June 10. The police knocked on my door early in the morning and detained me the entire day. I was released at around 8 pm, after Shah was already at the airport,” Pradhan said. He was also detained again on Sunday, June 25, when Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, DCM Fadnavis and others visited Nanded for the ‘Shasan Aplya Daari’ (government at your doorstep) event.

Pradhan was recently in the news when he took up the case of a heinous caste atrocity in a village near Nanded city, wherein a 22-year-old Ambedkarite youth was killed by Maratha youth in the village after the former took the lead in celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti in the village this year. He has since been demanding that Ministers as well as other political leaders in Maharashtra visit Bhalerao’s family. That is one of the reasons he believes he was detained for.

“The government has been doing this to me for years. Last time when Fadnavis was Maharashtra’s Chief Minister from 2014 o 2019, I faced similar police action against me after the Bhima Koregaon violence and the movement that followed. I was detained like this multiple times. An externment order prohibiting me from entering four districts was also issued,” Pradhan says.

He however adds that he faced no such action when the MVA government was in power in the state.

“I organised protests even during the COVID pandemic, after the Hathras rape and murder case in Uttar Pradesh.I was only booked at the time for violation of COVID norms violation. I was never detained or exiled just because I protested,” Pradhan insists.

Nawasagaray states that such practices have indeed been noted before, for example, at the time of Namantar Movement in Maharashtra, the massive Dalit and Navayana Buddhist movement to change the name of Marathwada University to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar University. He says that protesters were indeed arrested then, whenever then PM Indira Gandhi visited Maharashtra. But today, we see them happening in different parts of the state, every few weeks.

In fact, such practices seem to be followed in almost all places where the Prime Ministers and other BJP leaders and power visit. In June, a few Delhi students from CPI-ML's student wing All India Students Association (AISA) alleged that they had been detained inside their homes and not allowed to leave while the PM visited the Delhi University (DU).

These tactics by the police and the government are not completely new. Previous governments in the state as well as centre have used such methods to suppress protests, although they were indeed infrequent instances, not common ones. Since last year, we have been seeing a rather rampant use of preventive actions like detentions and externment notices.

“We need to understand that what is being invoked by the police during such actions is not preventive detention, which provides for six months of non-bailable detention under for serious offences such as under the National Security Act (NSA). These are the preventive actions under the Code of Criminal Procedure or (CrPC), wherein the police have the executive powers to take people in custody so as to maintain law and order,” explains Nawasagaray.

While the provision was usually used against known offenders, using it against protesters, he adds, is the suppression of democracy.



Coming back to the Aarey protests, a few months ago, a senior citizen and activist Salim Saboowala was taken into custody by the Andheri police on the day that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to come to Mumbai for an inauguration event of an educational institute of the Dawoodi Bohra Community at Marol in Andheri.

“I do not know why the police detained me. What threat was I going to pose to the Prime Minister,” questioned Saboowala. He was held in preventive detention all day on Friday, February 10.

“The police knocked on my door at around 7:15 in the morning. My brother, who lives with me answered the door. The police told him they need me to answer a few questions and asked me to come to the MIDC police station in Andheri. They did not call it preventive action, but I knew why they wanted me at the station,” Saboowala recounted.

Saboowala was detained once and then made to sign a bond that he will not protest while Modi was in town, following which he was released at the end of the day. He does not have any criminal record, but a history of participating in some protests, including the one at Aarey. However, he said that he was still detained along with others, some of whom he interacted with did have past criminal records.

As for Tabrez Sayyed, he says facing detention has become quite common for him now. “I live on the Aarey-Powai boundary. Thus, the policemen from both these police stations come to take me into custody, every time a big event is to take place in Aarey or Mumbai in general. One time, I was already detained when the Unit 10 Crime Branch police came looking for me. Since I was not at home because I was at the police station, they took my older brother with them for no reason,” Sayyed says.

In Ferbruary, when Modi was in Mumbai, Sayyed was at Azad Maidan participating in a protest unrelated to the visit. When the police did not find him at home, he said they detained him after the protest was over at Azad Maidan itself until the time Modi left.

Just three months later, he was exiled from Mumbai for three months.



“I am not sure they will stop at this. I think they will find some way to harass me again even when I am back after three months. I am young, I speak out, I am a Communist and on top of that, I am a Muslim. I think that is why I am targetted so often. No other Aarey protester has faced as many police complaints and detentions as I have. Aarey is my home, all I am doing is fighting for my home. But I am losing every day,” Sayyed says.

In Maharashtra, such action is apparently not limited to the arrival of political leaders to a particular city, but also to the people aligned with the right-wing party in power. Earlier in June, a senior social activist in Pimpri-Chinchwad Maroti Bhapkar was put under house arrest by the police on the day Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) Chief) Mohan Bhagwat was to visit the city. The reason is anticipated to be his remarks a few years ago, wherein he had indicated that he will be protest in front of Bhagwat. 

“This is a constitutional wrong,” says Pradhan adding that it hampers the citizen’s freedom of expression and freedom of movement.

“For any democracy to function, we need political maturity. Today’s politicians are lacking it. How else can we explain the instructions like the prohibition of black clothes imposed on Delhi University students during the Prime Minister’s visit? It is a mockery of democracy,” Nawasagaray exasperates.

Sayyed’s externment notice prohibits him to go home till August 10th. Aarey protesters who gathered at the Azad Maidan earlier this month have been slammed with new cases for their old protest. Meanwhile, as the Prime Minister is set to visit Pune on August 1, a large number of roads have been announced to be remaining closed from 6 am to 3 pm. As the opposition front INDIA has planned a protest in the city, it is now to be seen if it is just the security protocol, or the impending worry of protest, that is behind these large scale closures.