The Delhi Police have denied permission for a protest protest gathering of civil society groups that was scheduled to be held at the city’s Jantar Mantar area on Sunday on the World Human Rights Day.

Additional Deputy Commissioner (New Delhi district) Ravikant Kumar informed the organisers in a letter, seen by Scroll, on Saturday evening that the protest “can not be permitted in view of the security/law & order/ traffic reasons in the jurisdiction of New Delhi District”.

The Campaign Against State Repression, a coalition of civil liberties groups, student groups, democratic rights bodies, women’s rights groups and several other organisations, had applied for permission on November 28 at the Parliament Street Police Station for the protest gathering.

The letter by the coalition said that “the program will focus on discussing human rights in India”.

The coalition underlined that it was a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has ratified and recognised United Nations conventions on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and the conventions of the International Labour Organisation.

The letter said that 250 people were expected to come to the gathering and that the event would use a public announcement system, including microphones and speakers, as well as a stage.

Many rights activists were expected to speak at the event, including Communist Party of India General Secretary D Raja, Forum Against Repression convener in Telangana G Haragopal, activist Asif Iqbal Tanha, adivasi rights activist Sarju Tekam and labour rights activist Baccha Singh.

The 10th of every December has been commemorated as Human Rights Day since 1948, when the UN proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris to ensure that fundamental human rights are universally protected.

The theme for 2023 is “Freedom, Equality, and Justice for All”.

Deepak Kumar, an activist associated with the coalition, said he had given an undertaking to the police, along with the letter for permission, to assure them that the event would abide by the Supreme Court guidelines for demonstrations.

Kumar said for the last two weeks, the organisers had been busy with the awareness campaign for the event.

“We printed and distributed pamphlets and posters among students in different universities and colleges and also among labourers and workers in different localities,” he said. “We were running a campaign on social media as well and reaching out to the media to cover the event.”

He said that on Thursday afternoon, he received a call from the office of the deputy commissioner, New Delhi district, to visit their office.

Kumar told Scroll that he met the additional deputy commissioner at his office who wanted to know why the protest was being organised.

“I explained to him that we want to hold a meeting to discuss the rising human rights violations against minorities, women, backward caste communities and Dalits,” he said. “After hearing, he said we can organise the event, but under the condition that there will be no anti-national and anti-government sloganeering and no controversial speeches.”

Kumar said that he assured the police officer that the organisers would ensure that law and order was maintained.

After the meeting, Kumar left for his home but when he was about to alight from the bus, he received a call from a sub-inspector informing him that the permission for their event had been cancelled.

“I was puzzled, and I told him that the ADCP had granted permission, but he said that he had received orders from the top,” said Kumar.

The official also confirmed to Scroll that he has received orders from the additional deputy commissioner of police’s office, which he forwarded to Kumar on WhatsApp.

When Scroll contacted Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police Ravikant Kumar, he said he would check with his office before making any comment.

“I was disappointed to hear, but I am not surprised that we have been denied permission since this is not the first time that police have denied permission for a civil society event,” said Deepak Kumar. “It has now become a trend.”

In June, Scroll had reported that since last year, civil society groups have been forced to cancel or move events on human rights to other venues after police objections citing ‘law and order’.

On the latest incident, the organisers issued a statement condemning the cancellation of permission, saying that such short notice with less than 24 hours for the event “ensures that one cannot contest this violation of democratic rights in court before the envisaged protest or programme’s time lapses”.

It added: “In the name of a blanket concern of ‘law & order/security’, governments cannot suppress democratic discussion and dissent of the people of [the] country.”

Deepak Kumar told Scroll that even though the police have denied permission, the organisers and speakers would still attempt to gather at Jantar Mantar on World Human Rights Day.

“Let’s see,” he added. “We will go even if we are detained.”

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