RIGHTS/ JUDICIARY / GOVERNANCE
Topic: General Studies 2:
- Social empowerment and Fundamental Rights
- Judiciary and their role
On public protests
Context: The Supreme Court has found the indefinite “occupation” of a public road by the Shaheen Bagh protestors unacceptable.
Brief Background of the issue
- The Shaheen Bagh (New Delhi) protest was a sit-in peaceful protest and an iconic dissent mounted by mothers, children and senior citizens against the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)
- Mainly consisting of Muslim women, the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, since 14 December 2019, blocked major road in New Delhi using non-violent resistance
- It became the longest protest against CAA-NRC-NPR.
- However, the protest became inconvenient to commuters. Petitions were filed in High Court and Supreme Court to stop the blockade caused by the protests and to shift the site of protest.
- Later, they were removed by the police from the site on March 24th on the wake of lockdown imposed on Pandemic
What were the judgements of Supreme Court?
- Judgment upheld the right to peaceful protest against a law but made it unequivocally clear that public ways and public spaces cannot be occupied, and that too indefinitely.
- Protests cannot be held at any places: The demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone.
- Dissent in Self-Ruled Democracy: The seeds of protest and dissent were sown deep during the Freedom struggle. But dissent against the colonial rule cannot be equated with dissent in a self-ruled democracy.
- Reasonable restrictions: In a democracy, the rights of free speech and peaceful protest were indeed “treasured”. But these rights were also subject to reasonable restrictions imposed in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and public order. Police regulations also weighed in.
- Right of commuter: Fundamental rights do not live in isolation. The right of the protester has to be balanced with the right of the commuter. They have to co-exist in mutual respect
- Intervention by High Court was needed: The judgment said the Delhi High Court should have intervened positively and not left the situation fluid. The administration too should have talked to the protesters.
- Responsibility of the administration: The court held it was entirely the responsibility of the administration to prevent encroachments in public spaces. They should do so without waiting for courts to pass suitable orders.
- Significance of Digital Media: SC noted that Shaheen Bagh seemed typical of the many digitally-fuelled “leaderless” dissent seen in modern times. Technology and social media could both empower and weaken mass movements.
Indian democracy is best served when citizens freely express their views, mobilise and protest, but do so without undermining the rights of fellow-citizens. This will help keep the trust between differing constituencies and enhance the legitimacy of dissent
Connecting the dots: