Democratic Rights

Implications of Shaheen Bagh Judgement

The Supreme Court on  October passed Judgement on a petition which prayed that the Shaheen Bagh protest be lifted. As the protest was dispersed by the Police in March end 2020 using the Epidemic Act, the petition was actually infructuous, but the Bench went ahead and used the petition as the basis to deliver its point of view on the struggle itself.

The Court gave a blanket opinion, even while acknowledging that blanket opinions cannot be given on such struggles. In delivering this blanket, it ommitted all the specific issues pertaining to Shaheen Bagh struggle and yet related its opinion to the Shaheen Bagh peaceful women sit in, which shook awake the whole country, bringing into sharp focus the Preamble of India’s Constitution.

The Supreme Court bench stated that the right to protest was not absolute. In practical and specific terms, as applicable to Shaheen Bagh, it will translate into meaning that the right of the Shaheen Bagh protest should not have infringed on the right of commuters to a specific route. Because, as per the records of proceedings on this very petition before this very Bench, this is all that actually happened.

When the petition came up before this Bench, the Court employed three Hon’ble interlocuters to speak to the women protestors on its behalf. The three came to the site not only to listen but also to tell the protestors to move out of the half of one  carriageway that was actually closed due to the protest. The talks (there were several rounds and in addition the team visited the site some more times when no formal talks were held) were not closed door but held openly over the public address system at the sit in, and in the presence of media including news channels. Each time they reported back to the Court and in this way there were several hearings on the case. Post the first report of the interlocutors, one of the interlocutors submitted a detailed map of the roads around the sit in site, showing how major roads giving alternative routes had been deliberately blocked by the Police of UP and Delhi to create a traffic problem. There was no reason at all to block these roads. Once the Interlocutor submitted the map to the Court, this very same aspect was promptly publicized by several news channels as some new revelation though it was obvious to all in the area. However the final order of the Court does not even mention this fact.

Similarly, despite heavy police presence on both ends of the sit-in site, the women were threatened by weapon holding youth several times. These youth managed to reach right up to the site each time and were removed with great curtsey by the police after the volunteers had identified or stopped them. In these circumstances, the women had pointed out to the interlocutors, they were forced to restrict access on the parallel carriageway to emergency vehicles. These aspects are also not even noted in the final judgement.

In fact all that the judgement says is that protests can take place only in areas designated by police. This is a definite blow struck at the right to protest itself. Leave alone a partially blocked road with alternative available routes, protests have blockaded roads and railway lines so many times over. The very purpose of this judgement is also to discredit the women ‘s protest at Shaheen Bagh along with trying to shackle dissent.

Legislation passed by Parliament are not sacrosant. Laws are amended, modified, revoked. Besides, legislation like CAA are against the very spirit of the Constitutional provisions, as India is not a Hindu Rashtra.

Ever since the BJP-RSS Central Govt came to power, it has been out to restrict right to dissent while pushing through pro corporate policies on one hand and take steps to establish its Hindu Rashtra on the other.

In this period the highest Judiciary has sided with the Government in the curbs on dissent and dissenters, alongside refusing to test executive decisions to the extent displayed in its initial response to the migrants walking across the country following the lockdown declared without caring for the people.