SC Verdict Against Shaheen Bagh Sit-In Disappoints Activists

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While the top court declared Shaheen Bagh unacceptable, the verdict said it appreciated the right to peacefully protest. But “it can be (held) at designated places only” 

Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — Wednesday’s Supreme Court verdict on the Shaheen Bagh protest sit-in that protests cannot be indefinite has left activists disappointed who said that the onus of the duration of a protest lay with the government.

They said the Shaheen Bagh sit-in was a protest by women who wanted to be heard but the government did not even try to reach out and speak to them.

The apex court ruled on Wednesday that right to protest in public places was not absolute and public places could not be occupied indefinitely for such protests.

The ruling came in a case highlighting the troubles faced by the general public due to the road blockade at Shaheen Bagh in south Delhi by protesters who were opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

However, Ziya us Salam, a senior journalist who has also authored a book on Shaheen Bagh, said that one did not protest for media coverage or to score any social points. “They exercise the democratic right and want the government to respond to the protest. The sooner the government responds to the protest, the sooner the protests will end”.

While the top court declared Shaheen Bagh unacceptable, the verdict said it appreciated the right to peacefully protest. But “it can be (held) at designated places only,”

Islam said that the SC verdict was on “predictable lines” but added that it “lacked clarity on how a poor woman, living 30 km from a designated site would go there and protest. This curtails her right to protest.” He said that the protests at designated places were not effective. “We know from experience that people have been sitting at Jantar Mantar for days on end and nobody listens.”

He also said that the order also did not clarify whether protesting at any place for a definite period is allowed. He said that the government itself did not want the Shaheen Bagh protest to end till at least the Delhi elections were over “because they wanted to derive the political mileage out of it and turn a protest meant for keeping the fundamental character of our constitution alive into a sectarian protest.”

Manishikha, a Delhi-based theater artist, who regularly attended sit-in, defended the right of the women of Shaheen Bagh to protest. She said, public inconvenience caused by the sit in “is trivial when lives of 17% of the citizens of the country would become invisible overnight due to lack of some papers.”

She described Shaheen Bagh as the “most peaceful protest on such a large scale in the most recent times that India had seen” and accused the state and the police of creating “an atmosphere of ‘threat from the protest site’ which was untrue.

Navaid Hamid, president of All India Muslim Majlis-e- Mashawrat, said the protesters came out and gathered peacefully on the road because they had no option.

In February when a petiton was filed against Shaheen Bagh, Supreme Court appointed a team to negotiate with protestors to clear the road. Senior Lawyer Sanjay Hegde, one of the two negotiators said  they tried to the best of their ability during the negotiations but added “I have no comments on today’s verdict”.

Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, said Shaheen bagh was not the only protest that had had a road blockade. “There have been any number of protests in the country where large highways have been blocked. Think of Jatt protests. The Supreme Court has not given judgement on any of those.”

She also spoke of the protests through self-immolation at the time of anti-Mandal protests and asked why the Supreme Court did not say anything on such protests.

Krishnan said women in Shaheen Bagh came out in a desperate situation, adding that the government was taking decisions about their lives and their citizenship without consulting them. “If they stand to lose their citizenship and were to be sent to concentration camps, they have to do something so that the government listens to them.”

While the court is making rules for protests, she added, there are no rules for the government to reach out to protesters to hear them out.

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