Shaheen bagh protest during the pandemic - Legal implications

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Shaheen bagh Protest during pandemic - Legal Implications

The Shaheen Bagh protest was a sit-in peaceful protest, led by women, that began in response to the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in both houses of Parliament on 11 December 2019 and the ensuing police intervention against students at Jamia Millia Islamia who were opposing the Amendment.[6][7][8] [1] [2] [3] Reporter, Staff (29 December 2019). Shaheen Bagh residents brave the cold as anti-CAA stir enters Day 15". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Archived from the original on 13 January 2020. Retrieved 13 January 2020.Protesters agitated not only against the citizenship issues of the CAA, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR), but also against police brutality, unemployment, poverty and for women's safety.[9] Mainly consisting of Muslim women, the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, since 14 December 2019,[10] blocked a road[d] in New Delhi using non-violent resistance for 101 days as of 24 March 2020.[1][11] It became the longest protest against CAA-NRC-NPR.[12] As a precautionary measure Delhi Police barricaded the neighboring major highways around the area. Following the North East Delhi riots, police barricading and presence in the area increased with over ten companies, 1000 personnel, being assigned to Shaheen Bagh.[13] The protests ended on 24 March 2020 as Delhi Police vacated the site due to coronavirus pandemic.[14] [4] The leaderless protest became politicized and is generally against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.[11] The protesters also supported unions opposing the government's anti-labor policies and protested against recent happenings such as the 2020 JNU Attack, and showed solidarity with Kashmiri Pandits.[15][16] The barricaded and tented venue drew large crowds; The Wire noted that tens of thousands of protesters have participated.[17] The Shaheen Bagh protest has inspired similar Shaheen Bagh-style protests across the country, such as in Gaya, Kolkata, Prayagraj, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The blockade became a campaigning issue in the 2020 Delhi Legislative Assembly elections. Some politicians promised to immediately remove the blockade after being voted into power, and were accused by their opponents of prolonging the demonstration to agitate voters. The blocked road affects more than 100,000 vehicles a day, adding hours to some journeys. As the area is also a border point into the capital, thousands of trucks are being diverted to other border points. Five petitions have been filed to stop the blockade. The Delhi High Court refused to hear the first two pleas and on 14 January 2020 declared the blockade to be a police matter. The Delhi Police have said that they will not use force to end the blockade. A third petition highlighted the difficulty faced by students with upcoming board examinations. The matter also reached the Supreme Court of India with two pleas being filed. Following the initial hearings, on 17 February the Supreme Court appointed three mediators to initiate conversations with the protesters regarding shifting to a location which doesn't block a public place. As of 5 March 2020 the second round of talks with the interlocutors is underway and the next hearing is on 23 March. Even after the spread of the coronavirus in India, including additional restrictions enforced by the government under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which includes a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people and the closure of schools, colleges, cinema halls and weekly markets among other things, the Shaheen Bagh protest still continued for several days. As a precautionary measure the protesters planned a more "controlled gathering" by reducing the number of protesters to just 5 individuals and symbolically placing cots and sandals by other protesters in solidarity.[18][4] However, following the complete lockdown imposed in Delhi from 23 to 31 March 2020,[5] the protesters were arrested and forcefully removed from the site by the Delhi Police on 24 March 2020.[1] [5]


Efforts to remove Blockage

Counter-protests against the Shaheen Bagh blockade have been held with many locals wanting the roads to reopen. The Delhi High Court refused a plea on shifting the protesters from Shaheen Bagh; the bench of the court was presided by the Chief Justice, DN Patel.[108] Another petition has been filed by Advocate Amit Sahni "seeking directions to withdraw the closure of Shaheen Bagh stretch" and give Delhi Police the required assistance in addressing the issue. The blocked road affects more than 100,000 vehicles per day,[including 1,800 trucks which are being diverted to other border points. [6]

On 14 January 2020, the Delhi High Court stated that it was a traffic matter to be dealt with by the police according to the larger public interest.[111][112] The Delhi Police then stated that they would look into the restrictions caused by the protesters, which affect tens of thousands of commuters daily, including senior citizens, school children and office workers.[113][114] Delhi Police made a statement saying that, "Won't use force to evict protesters from Shaheen Bagh" and would use "persuasion". (Notably, police brutality is among the protesters' grievances.)[115][116] Talks between the protesters and the police failed and the protesters refused to move.[117] The leaderless nature of the protests made it difficult to take any action.

There have been various misleading claims by the media related to the incident. One of such claim was that the Delhi High Court ordered police to clear the protest site.[118] The Times of India debunked a viral video which claimed there was a failed police crackdown at Shaheen Bagh; the video was from a CAA protest in East Delhi.[119] [7]


Petitions in Supreme Court

A plea was filed in the Supreme Court of India requesting supervision of the matter so as to prevent any violence. The plea sought removal of the demonstration, citing that no one can be allowed to occupy a public road under the pretext of peaceful protest and for an indefinite period such that others face inconvenience.[130] Another Supreme Court petition was filed later, on 4 February 2020, by BJP leader Nand Kishore Garg and sought an urgent hearing.[131] On 7 February, the Supreme Court postponed the hearing until after the Delhi elections (scheduled for 8 February), so as not to influence the outcome. On 10 February, in its first hearing, the Court drew the attention of the protesters to the inconvenience caused over months of disruption. The court argued whether protests can be held in common areas indefinitely or if an area should be designated for protests, and considered the consequences of such protests held in public areas everywhere. However, the Court issued notices to the Central Government, the Delhi Government and the Delhi Police, stating that people have the "right to protest" though this couldn't be for "an indefinite period in a common area". The Court did not give any interim order and wanted to hear from the protesters.[134] [8]

On 17 February, the Supreme Court heard the plea, which framed the matter as an issue of protests on public roads. Two interlocutors have been chosen for engagement in dialogues with the protesters by the bench of justices S.K. Kaul and K. M. Joseph and the hearing was scheduled for 24 February 2020. The two interlocutors are senior advocates Sanjay Hegde and Sadhna Ramchandran.[135] The Court also advised the interlocutors that they could seek assistance former Chief Information Commissioner of India, Wajahat Habibullah who filed an affidavit in the Court on the blockade.[136] Habibullah in his affidavit stated the court that the precautionary blockade by police around the protest site is cause for the traffic inconveniences.[137] Hegde and Ramachandran examined the area and had several talk sessions with the protesters. On 24 February 2020, the interlocutors submitted the sealed cover report to the court as the report was only meant to be studied by court.[138][139] The bench received the report to examine the situation and scheduled the hearing for 26 February 2020.[140] However, the Court postponed the hearing for 23 March 2020, following the North East Delhi riots happened between 23 and 26 February 2020.[141] [9] Retrieved 27 February 2020. The second round of talks between the interlocutors and the protesters is underway as of 5 March 2020.[142] [10]


Impact of coronavirus pandemic

Following the spread of the coronavirus in India in 2020, the Press Trust of India reported that the women at Shaheen Bagh had said that "the protesters were being provided with masks and hand sanitizers and there was no need to be scared. "However, the Chief Minister of Delhi made it clear that restrictions were in place in Delhi as per the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and this applied to protests too. Schools, colleges, malls, weekly markets, cinema halls and gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned in Delhi. The Chief Minister made it clear that those who did not comply with the Act would be punished.[213] However, the coordinators stated that "the order of shut down has come for entertainment services, while Shaheen Bagh is agitation and fight for survival" and that only a Supreme Court order could get them to move. As a precautionary measure the protesters planned for a "controlled gathering".[18] [11] The protest followed the "Janata Curfew", a self-imposed curfew announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 22 March 2020,by reducing the number of protesters to 5 and symbolically leaving behind cots and sandals by other protesters at the site in solidarity. However, a complete lockdown was imposed in Delhi by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal from 23 to 31 March 2020, following which the protesters were removed by the Delhi police on 24 March 2020. It was reported that the police arrested the protesters who were present there as they refused to end the protest and leave the site.

References

  1. "Shaheen Bagh: The women occupying Delhi street against citizenship law - 'I don't want to die proving I am Indian'".
  2. BBC. 4 January 2020. Archived from the original on 8 January 2020. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  3. Bakshi, Asmita (2 January 2020). "Portraits of resilience: the new year in Shaheen Bagh". Livemint. Archived from the original on 13 January 2020. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  4. "Delhi lockdown: Anti-CAA protesters removed from Shaheen Bagh, other places". ecomoictimes.com. India Times. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  5. Bhasin, Swati (24 March 2020). "Shaheen Bagh Anti-CAA Protesters Removed Amid Delhi Lockdown". The NDTV. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  6. Paras, Singh (16 January 2020). "Delhi: Shaheen Bagh takes toll on other border points". The Times of India. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  7. "FACT CHECK: No police 'crackdown' at Shaheen Bagh protest site". The Times of India. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  8. Vaidyanathan, A; Ghosh, Deepshikha (10 February 2020). "Can't Block Public Road Indefinitely: Top Court On Shaheen Bagh Protest". The NDTV. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  9. "SC to hear Shaheen Bagh matter on March 23". ANI. The Livemint. 26 February 2020.
  10. Roy, Debayan (4 March 2020). "Round two of Shaheen Bagh talks begin, interlocutors play Holi card for 'positive solution'". ThePrint. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  11. "Shaheen Bagh protest on despite health risk". The Hindustan Times. 14 March 2020. Retrieved 17 March 2020.