How High Courts Have Looked At Anti-CAA Protests And Police Action
What courts have said so far about protests against new citizenship law.
Even as India’s Supreme Court has begun hearing challenges to the amended citizenship law amid a fresh round of violence, the top court and multiple high courts have upheld the right to protest of those against the new law.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament on Dec. 11, 2019, grants citizenship to people of all faiths, excluding Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, who have entered India before 2015. Protesters call it discriminatory because it leaves out people from one faith even as India’s Constitution doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion.
Protests continue in different parts of the country. At least 10 people have died in the fresh round of violence in Delhi even as U.S. President Donald Trump is in the national capital. But before the violence broke out, Shaheen Bagh area in Southeast Delhi had become the epicentre of the anti-CAA protests as women blocked an arterial road, triggering a debate.
Here’s what high courts India have said about the protests so far:
Karnataka High Court
Bangalore saw one of the city’s largest protests against the citizenship law on Dec. 18-19, with civil society members, including historian Ramachandra Guha, defying prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The provision grants the power to a district magistrate to pass orders to maintain public order and bars a gathering of more than four people.
On a petition challenging the imposition of Section 144, the Karnataka High Court criticised the administration and held the prohibitory orders were illegal, according to a report by LiveLaw.
The court also granted bail to protesters in Mangaluru after Section 144 was imposed from December 18-20. According to another report by LiveLaw, the court held the arrests were an attempt by the police to hide its own excesses.
The court noted that the police did not produce any material to show that the individuals who were arrested were present at the spot and were armed with deadly weapons, as the agency contended.
“Photographs produced by the petitioners disclose that the policemen themselves were pelting stones on the crowd,’’ the report quoted the high court as saying.
Bombay High Court
Hearing a petition against the denial of permission by the Maharashtra government to organise an indefinite protest at Beed, the Bombay High Court upheld the right to protest against the Citizenship Act even as it refused to go into the question of the constitutionality of the new law.
“When such Act is made, some people, maybe of a particular religion like Muslims, may feel that it’s against their interest and such act needs to be opposed,” the court ruled on Feb. 13. “It’s a matter of their perception and belief and the court cannot go into the merits of that perception or belief.”
The high court, however, clarified it’s not making any comments on the merits of the Act.
It highlighted that the protests against the citizenship law does not include only Muslims but citizens of all religious groups and said agitations can take place even in cases where the rights of foreigners are involved.
“This court wants to express that such persons cannot be called traitors, anti-nationals just because they want to oppose one law. It will be an act of protest and against the government only for the reason of CAA,” the Bombay High Court said.
Tripura High Court
Northeastern states of Tripura and Assam have seen one of the largest protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. On Jan. 9, the High Court of Tripura upheld the right of government employees to attend political rallies.
The case reached the court after the state opened an inquiry against Lipika Pal, a clerk in the state’s Fisheries Department, for being present at an agitation by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
“Every person who is present in the audience during such addresses cannot be stated to have participated in the rally. The presence of a person does not either establish his or her political affiliation. A student of politics, an enthusiastic young man, a reporter or just a curious bystander all are likely to be present in any political gathering,” the court ruled. “Even an opponent or a critic of a political party may also attend the gathering. Her mere presence at a gathering, therefore, without any further allegation, would not amount to her participation in such political gathering.”
Chief Justice Akil Kureshi said in the judgment that as a government employee, the “petitioner isn’t devoid of her right of free speech, a fundamental right which can be curtailed only by a valid law”. The court didn’t find an evidence of violation of the rules by the petitioner.
Telangana High Court
The Telangana High Court expressed its displeasure over the denial of permission to hold a protest against the new citizenship law.
According to a report by Deccan Chronicle, the high court observed that the police had been sitting on applications seeking permission to protest against various issues.
“A number of similar cases have been filed for several months now, challenging the delay of a decision on the applications by the police. Why are you adopting this attitude so that the applicants have to approach the court for its intervention? Do you think that the courts don’t have any work? We have lots of work and we are not here only to deal with such cases,” the daily reported quoting Justice Vinod Kumar.
The court asked the state Home Ministry and the Director-General of Police to frame guidelines for granting permission to protest.
Allahabad High Court On CAA Protests In UP
The Allahabad High Court is hearing petitions against the police action during the CAA protests at Aligarh Muslim University.
After an inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission, the court-ordered compensation for six students who were injured during the protests. It also took note that policemen “can be seen in CCTV visuals as being involved in stray incidents of damaging motorcycle and unnecessarily caning the apprehended students”.
In another case at the High Court was hearing regarding the recovery notices issued to a man from Kanpur for allegedly damaging public property, the state has reportedly stayed the notice, news agency IANS reported on Feb. 14.
The petitioner challenged the notice on the ground that such orders cannot be issued by the additional district magistrate. The case will come up for hearing in April.
Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court is hearing petitions seeking clearing of the road blocked by protesters at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi. The top court-appointed two mediators, Senior Advocates Sanjay Hegde and Sadhna Ramachandran, to engage with the protestors and explore the option of shifting them to another venue.
The mediators have filed their reports and the court will take up the case Wednesday. In an earlier hearing, the top court clarified that it’s not questioning the right to protest but is only looking into the option of shifting the protest to another site.
The top court will also hear on Wednesday another application, filed by Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad, seeking intervention in the ongoing violence in Northeast Delhi for the last two days.