Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Author:- S. Ashita

BVP New Law College , Pune

Pelting is an acting of throwing something, similarly when stones are being thrown upon this act is commonly known as Stone Pelting, and those throwing stones are called stone pelters. Stone being a cheap and easily available has been used by people as a weapon.

Stone pelting in India has emerged as a major threat to the citizens living in the democracy. The history of stone pelting in India is very old; it came into existence since 2008 in Kashmir during the separatists’ movement. Later, it evolved as a trend among the kashmiri mob, which was mostly women and children to throw stones at the Armed forces. These stone-pelters were basically the supporters of Pakistani militant group ISIS, these militant groups provoked and funded the delinquents to curb peace in the valley. Not only the armed forces but the innocent civilians, sometimes even the tourists got severely injured, some even lost their lives. Later on after getting arrested they all claimed right to life, i.e. Article 21 of the Constitution of India which they don’t even abide.

Though, the Constitution of India provides its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) and under Article 19(1) (b) it provides the right to assemble peaceably and without arms[1]. In Re-Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union of India & Ors. Case (2012), the Supreme Court had stated, “Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest which cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action.”[2] The Right to protest is one of the core principles on which democracy survives and thrives. However, when a protest turns violent, as seen in some places in recent protests, it defeats the very purpose of the protest. While enjoying the rights, one must adhere to one’s duties and responsibilities in a democratic society. It is clearly proven that the assembly of people carrying stones with them in order to cause grievous hurt to the Armed forces and to create chaos does not comes under peaceful assembly.

Any form of public action to challenge the government’s proposals or decisions is also Constitutionally legitimate, as long as it is done peacefully. In the case S. Rangarajan vs. P. Jagjivan Ram, “Everyone has a fundamental right to form his opinion on any issues of general concern. Open criticism of government policies and operations is not a ground for restricting expression”[3].

On 11 December 2019, the central government enacted amendments to Citizenship law to grant citizenship to religious minorities of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who had to flee their homeland facing persecution. Protests erupted in Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University after the Bill was passed in Parliament and got the President's approval. Soon, more students from universities and colleges across India joined the protests. In some areas violence broke out. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was misinterpreted by most of the citizens which curbed peace in the country.

Protests were held in different parts of the country, in some places violence broke out. Like, in Jamia Malia Islamia, Delhi, the students who were protesting, some of them stoned at police because of which 6 police jawans got injured. Stone pelting between two groups was reported in Maujpur area of east Delhi near the anti-CAA protest site of Jaffrabad, where around 500 people were demonstrating from last night against the contentious Citizenship Act, inspired by the Shaheen Bagh protests in south-east Delhi.

In West Bengal same scenario was witnessed, it even got deteriorated. Stones were thrown at trains, the loco pilot got injured, there were attacks at the parliament too. The situation took a violent turn at Murshidabad which is a Muslim populated city, which created a panicked situation among the Muslim community, the mob vandalised an Ambulance by pelting stones on it, traffics were blocked, tyres were burnt, the mob torched several vehicles, fake news and rumours act as a major tool for instigating people and Several people got injured and many innocent people lost their lives.

Protests turned violent in North-Eastern states also, In Assam protests turned into scary scenes, Assam has witnessed one of the worst violent protests by the public in its history with three rail stations, post office, bank, bus terminus, shops, dozens of vehicles and many other public properties being set ablaze or totally damaged.

As our country was coping up with the disturbance caused because of the stone pelting and the protests, it is hit by another issue which has lead entire the world into danger. There is a virus outbreak in India which first emerged in the Wuhan City of China. This virus is commonly known as COVID 19 or Corona Virus. The WHO has declared it as a Pandemic. As a preventive measure to stop the outbreak of this deadly virus lockdown has been announced all over India. On 22nd March Janta Curfew was observed across nation as per the orders by the PM, and since 24th March Lockdown has been announced.

Meanwhile, there were people who risked their lives by not following the lockdown. Strict actions were taken on them by the Police. Few days before the lockdown there was a religious gathering of Muslim community called Tablighi Jamat, held at Nizamuddin Markaz, Delhi. Soon after lockdown was announced the gathering still continued defying the government orders. When it came into notice of the authorities, the gathering was called off, but those who gathered there refused to cooperate with the authorities, as there was an assumption that these people may be infected of the virus because there were people from all the neighbouring countries and all of them were accommodated in large numbers without social distancing, so a team of doctors and paramedics were also sent to diagnose them, but a totally different picture came out of there. Some of the people who were attending the jamat protested against the medical team, they refused to take the medical help, and even tried to threaten the authorities by spitting at them, so that the virus will infect others, and also they pelted stones at them.

Similar incidents were seen in Indore, Madhubani, Muradabad where the health workers, doctors were pelted with stones, the medical team went to these places to track and diagnose those who went to attend the religious gathering at Nizamuddin markaz, but they refused, and stoned at the authorities over there, including police, leading to severe injuries. In Moradabad, A team of doctors and medical staff was attacked by a mob in Moradabad's Nawabganj area when they went to take away two suspected cases of the novel corona virus in the area. The mob pelted stones at the ambulance and doctors. The stones were also pelted on the police van which came to rescue the health workers.

In the recent times India has witnessed many cases of stone pelting. Stones being easily available are being used as cheap weapons by the mob to showcase their anger or to oppose government policies. The Constitution of India under article 19(1) (b) provides the right to assemble peaceably and without arms[4], but violent methods have been used by people during protests. Stone pelting is most common of them it not only causes severe injuries but can also lead to death of a person. In the year 2016, there have been 2653 incidents of stone pelting, while in the year 2019 it was 1999. 41 security men killed, 907 injured in militancy-related, stone-pelting incidents in Kashmir. At least 13 people have lost their lives in violence that started in parts of North East Delhi on one incident of stone pelting. The statistics of number of injuries and deaths caused because of stone pelting is very terrifying.

Moreover, there is no such specific law against stone pelting. In the places where stone pelting becomes a peril for the human life Section 144 of IPC is imposed or National Security Act is imposed like in the case of Moradabad.

On 22 April 2020, government promulgated an ordinance which amends The Epidemic Act to include safety and protections for health care personnels.

Some main key definitions of the amendment related to Health Workers are[5]:

· An ‘act of violence’ includes any of the following acts committed against a healthcare service personnel:

(i) harassment impacting living or working conditions

(ii) harm, injury, hurt, or danger to life

(iii) obstruction in discharge of his duties

(iv) loss or damage to the property or documents of the healthcare service personnel. Property is defined to include

(i)clinical establishment

(ii) quarantine facility

(iii) mobile medical unit

(iv) other property in which a healthcare service personnel has direct interest, in relation to the epidemic.

· The Ordinance specifies that no person can:

(i) commit or abet the commission of an act of violence against a healthcare service personnel

(ii) abet or cause damage or loss to any property during an epidemic. Contravention of this provision is punishable with imprisonment between three months and five years, and a fine between Rs 50,000 and two lakh rupees. This offence may be compounded by the victim with the permission of the Court. If an act of violence against a healthcare service personnel causes grievous harm, the person committing the offence will be punishable with imprisonment between six months and seven years, and a fine between one lakh rupees and five lakh rupees. These offences are cognizable and non-bailable.

Persons convicted of offences under the Ordinance will also be liable to pay a compensation to the healthcare service personnel whom they have hurt. Such compensation will be determined by the Court. In the case of damage or loss of property, the compensation payable to the victim will be twice the amount of the fair market value of the damaged or lost property, as determined by the Court. If the convicted person fails to pay the compensation, the amount will be recovered as an arrear of land revenue under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1890.

· When prosecuting a person for causing grievous harm to a healthcare service personnel, the Court will presume that person is guilty of the offence, unless the contrary is proved.

These all provisions are made for the protection of the health workers in keeping the view of current scenarios, these steps taken are really progressive. But, for the protectors of our nation that i.e., for Indian Soldiers there is no such specific law for protection of their rights for protection against stone pelting. The people involved in stone pelting are charged under sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 224 (obstruction by a person to his lawful apprehension), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 427 (mischief causing damage) of the Indian Penal Code[6].

The amendments introduced for protection of health workers in The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was very apt and a rightful decision made in keeping the demand of the scenario. But, at the same time, there is a need for a equally strict law for protection of Indian Soldiers against stone pelting, because the damage caused to them is uncountable, the existing laws are also strict most of them are cognizable and non- bailable, but the offences for which these are made are still being performed by people. Sections 143 and 147 of IPC are bailable, they should be made non- bailable offences if there is stone pelting involved then the punishment for commencement of such act should be increased, exemplary damages should be imposed, if such fine is imposed it will discourage people to perform it because of the higher fine, or an entirely new act should be made against stone pelting which should include the above mentioned suggestions, so that it can be imposed particularly against stone pelting and it will help in restoring peace in the country.

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