• Kushal Kumar Jha

SC on Shaheen Bagh: Occupying public spaces for protests not acceptable

SC said that dissent "shouldn't lead to inconvenience"

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that despite protesting being a democratic right, occupying public spaces for the same is not acceptable, referring to the incident of Shaheen Bagh protests against CAA. Upon hearing the petition citing protests that blocked the streets of the National Capital Region for months, the top court said that dissent "shouldn't lead to inconvenience".

The SC was hearing a bunch of petitions seeking directives from the top court on right to protest because of the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act 2019) protests.

"Democracy and dissent go hand in hand... (But) Occupying public places like Shaheen Bagh for protests is not acceptable... Authorities have to act on their own and cannot hide behind courts... Public places cannot be occupied indefinitely like during the Shaheen Bagh protests," the Supreme court said during the hearing.

Dr. Nasir, President of Shaheen Bagh Market Association welcomed the Supreme Court verdict and said, "We welcome the SC verdict, around 200 shops were shut down and 2000 workers were jobless. All the shops are of branded items. We have faced a loss of crores."

"It is disappointing that the state machinery is muted and a silent spectator to hooliganism and vandalism of the protesters who are threatening the existential efficacy of the democracy and the rule of law and had already taken the law and order situation in their own hand," the petition read.

The petitioner & former BJP MLA Nand Kishore Garg said that the protests, though within the constitutional framework, blocked public spaces and cause inconvenience to the public at large. "Hence, it is urgently required that the public places must not be allowed to be abused and misused for ulterior and mala fide purposes such as staging a protest against the constitutional amendment in the heart of the capital city and thereby causing incalculable hardships and difficulties to the common people," the plea read.

The Top said the following upon hearing the petitions seeking directives on the right to protest:

  • No individual or group of individuals can block public places or carriageways to demonstrate or express dissent.

  • Authorities should remove such blockade by the protestors.

  • Protest should be held at a designated place.

  • Occupation of public places or roads by demonstrators, which cause inconvenience to a large number of people, violates their rights and is not permissible under law.

  • The right to peaceful protest is a constitutional right and it has to be respected. But that does not mean agitating people should adopt means and modes of protest that was used against colonial rulers during the struggle for independence.

  • In today's time, social media can be used to create a highly polarised situation, which was seen at Shaheen Bagh protests.

Massive protests had taken to the streets of the National Capital, prominently Shaheen Bagh, in the aftermath of the Citizenship Amendment Act's passage in the parliament in 2019. The venue became the epicenter of protests, citing the amended law as 'unconstitutional' and 'undemocratic' by the opposition parties.

Fake news and misinformation campaign that ran on social media at that time was also responsible for the mass polarization and chaos that stormed the streets in the form of riots.

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