Is Varanasi being stifled under Section 144?

The city saw prohibitory orders being imposed for more than 350 out of 365 days in 2019

Varanasi Image Courtesy:

Fear and silence have gripped Uttar Pradesh in the wake of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests. After The Hindu quoted a Benaras Hindu University (BHU) student in its stories where he mentioned that in the 365 days of 2019, Section 144 was imposed in the town of Varanasi for 359 days, General Secretary of the Congress, Priyanka Gandhi lashed out at the Prime Minister and his party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

After Gandhi’s tweet, media houses rushed to verify claims. A senior administrative official told the Hindustan Times, “Yes, the city remained under Section 144 CrPC for about 350 days in 2019 for various events and incidents.”

Neither denying nor confirming Priyanka’s allegation, Varanasi Additional District Magistrate (ADM) Vinod Kumar Singh told reporters, “After checking the records, we would only confirm. However, it may be possible because Varanasi is a religious city where festivals fall across the year and are celebrated on big scales.”

He told The Pioneer that it was wrong to assume that Varanasi had been put under prohibitory orders for a year and that the orders were only imposed on a need basis. “But we will enforce Section 144 during the forthcoming board examinations near all the centres. This should answer your question,” the SSP replied when asked if Section 144 was clamped in Varanasi for 359 days in 2019.

The holy city of Varanasi often sees the imposition of Sec 144. Currently too, the city is under prohibitory orders starting December 11, 2019 to February 5, 2020 for maintaining law and order during the UP Teachers Eligibility Test (UP TET), Christmas, New Year, Makar Sankranti, Republic Day and arrivals of VVIPs. Last time, it was imposed on October 16 and remained effective till December 9 for Guru Nanak Jyanti, Barawafat, Karthik Purnima, Dev Deepawali, Eid, bank and other competitive examinations.

Varanasi, which is the Constituency of the Prime Minister, also sees Section 144 being imposed a week before every visit by Modi, CM Yogi Adityanath or any other minister from the Centre. However, the frequency and the arbitrariness with which the orders are imposed has increased since 2018.

The government officials did not give an exact number on which the orders were imposed, they explained that because the city was a site for major festivals, it called for these orders. On being asked why that required restrictions that are specifically meant to control public disorder in troubled spots, nobody had an answer. When contacted by the The Telegraph, a government official said, “We haven’t counted how many days Section 144 was in force in which area of Varanasi. But it’s a pilgrimage town and the Prime Minister’s constituency, so we have to be alert all the time.”

He also said that the section was mostly not imposed across the entire city, was relaxed arbitrarily, exempted religious processions and bypassed areas like the Ganga ghat.

“Yes, the ban on assemblies is imposed 30 days before festivals like Maha Shivaratri, Ram Navami, Janmashtami and Muharram in some parts of the city. It’s also clamped around the universities and colleges five days before Republic Day and Independence Day. Nor do we ever allow gatherings near the Kashi Vishwanath temple. Section 144 is also imposed in the Lanka area (near the Banaras Hindu University main gate) whenever the students hold an agitation, for these mostly turn violent. These agitations go on round the year,” he added saying that orders were never imposed at the Ganga Ghat unless there was intimation of communal tension in the town.

Perhaps this was what Priyanka Gandhi was trying to say when she spoke about orders being imposed in the city saying, “the PM’s own constituency and he has the gall to say that people have nothing to fear?”

Her sentiment was echoed by Shatrudra Prakash, a member of the Samajwadi Party Legislative Council who told The Telegraph, “You can’t expect a democracy in Varanasi. The local officials proactively suppress the voice of the people on every issue. If there’s a whiff of an agitation, Section 144 is imposed. The way this section has been abused in Varanasi is alarming, although people do keep breaking the prohibitory orders.”

People from the city of Varanasi have told many news channels and publications that now, especially in the wake of anti-CAA protests in the city, people are fearing now than ever before to even step out on the streets. Currently, the Section 144 has been imposed there to quell these protests and people have reported policemen sitting by the roadside waiting to detain or arrest anyone they feel is violating the orders.

Journalists, professors and even the common people of the city say that they have seen a noticeable change in the political atmosphere of the city since 2014. A.K. Lari told The Hindu, “The tenor of political discussions in Varanasi changed after 2014. People do get fearful while expressing their opinion.”

BHU professors Brinda Paranjape and MP Ahirwar also said that the bonhomie among the people seems to have been “seriously threatened and throttled” since 2014. They said, “After 2014, the colour of the city and University has become saffron. BHU has now become the shelter home of the Sanghis.”

In December 2019, the UP police has arrested 218 persons including students and 69 activists in Varanasi in the light of anti-CAA protests.


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