Many physicists today postulate the existence of multiple universes, even when sober. We used to live in a world of infinite possibilities. Now we live in an infinite number of worlds. India shines. Democracy thrives. The economy booms. A hundred flyovers bloom. This is not that India. If you see your picture here one day, don’t worry. That’s not you.
According to this law, any magistrate anywhere in the country can stop more than five people from assembling in one place. The police are empowered to do anything to ensure this. This law is applicable whenever, in the opinion of the magistrate, ‘there is sufficient ground for proceeding under this section.’
Grounds for prohibition include ‘danger to human health, life and safety’. Once you accept that Rahul Gandhi is human, this means that if he suffers an anxiety attack, you could face a tear gas attack. Prohibition is also recommended to prevent ‘disturbance of the public tranquility.’ This means that raising your voice too much could lead to you getting a baton in the groin.
How can you avoid arrest under this section? It would be wise to visit your local magistrate’s office once a day, to check what exactly he is prohibiting currently. While the law gives a magistrate god-like powers, it also urges him to ‘apply his mind.’ They often do. Here are some examples.
1) During the senior secondary exams of 2011, in Udupi, Section 144 was declared within a 100 metre radius of all exam centres, to prevent ‘malpractice and indiscipline’.
2) Last October, Collector K.N. Satheesh declared Section 144 in Thiruvananthapuram, to prevent the spread of dengue, which can be transferred through urine or saliva. From this we can deduce that whenever more than five people get together in Thiruvananthapuram, they usually end up spitting and peeing on each other.
3) In 2010, the Pune Police declared Section 144 in all public parks on Valentine’s Day, to prevent immoral practices by young couples. This was despite the fact that couples usually consist of less than five people.
4) Also in 2010, hunger strikers against the Renuka Dam in Himachal were arrested for violating Section 144, as their health was getting affected, along with the tranquility of their relatives.
5) In Kashmir, Section 144 has been in force more or less continuously since 2008. Sometimes they are allowed out to play cricket matches. The film ‘Lagaan’ was based on this, although the names of the characters were changed to protect their identities, and the nationality of the villains was changed to British.
Section 144 is a very handy tool, which can be used for a wide variety of purposes. Malcontents have used this law to compare India with China, but this is incorrect. In China, such a law was applied during the run up to the Olympics in 2008, whereas in India, this has been applied regularly since 1861. More advanced countries, such as Bangladesh, abolished this law in 1974. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia tried to overturn it here in 1967, but the judge could not understand him, as he insisted on speaking in Hindi.
Some have argued that this law contradicts the freedom of assembly guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution, not realizing that magistrates were invented before the Constitution, and are hence not bound by it. As a responsible citizen, you should uphold the law by going out less, and speaking as softly as possible. Not all mishaps can be avoided, but next time you go to India Gate, pray hard that Sonia Gandhi doesn’t feel a migraine coming on.