India’s top court says public places can’t be held indefinitely for protests

Srinagar, India, Oct 7 (efe-epa).- The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that public places cannot be occupied indefinitely for protests like the one against controversial new citizenship, blocking for months a highway connecting the capital New Delhi with one of its burgeoning satellite towns.

The top court recognized that peaceful protests were indeed a constitutional right but noted that it was not absolute, and no person or group of persons could be allowed to block public places or roads for demonstrations.

“Dissent and democracy go hand in hand but protests must be carried out in designated area,” said a three-judge bench of Justices SK Kaul, Aniruddha Bose, and Krishna Murari.

The judges ordered the authorities to remove protesters staging a demonstration at non-designated places and causing inconveniences to people.

“Occupation of public places or roads by demonstrators, which cause inconvenience to a large number of people and violate their rights, is not permissible under law,” the court said.

The ruling came in response to a batch of petitions against a months-long demonstration by women and children at Shaheen Bagh of Delhi that had become the epicenter of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Shaheen Bagh protesters said they would abide by the court ruling and did not plan to resume the demonstration that was cleared in late March after police cited a ban on public gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have to abide by the court ruling. We do not plan to hold protest demonstrations in the near future due to the pandemic. Let us see how things shape up in the coming months,” Abbas Ali Naqvi, one of the Shaheen Bagh protesters, told EFE.

The Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi enacted the law in December last year to fast-track Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

Critics of the law say it is anti-Muslim and goes against the constitution and secular tradition of India since it grants citizenship on a religious basis.

The government and the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have denied any bias against Indian Muslims, which form 14 percent of its 1.3 billion people.

Anti-government demonstrations rocked the country for months after the parliament passed the law on Dec 12.

Some of them turned violent, leaving at least 100 people, mostly Muslims, dead, and scores of residential properties burnt in communal riots.

But the demonstration in the Muslim-majority Shaheen Bagh neighborhood was entirely peaceful and had received global attention.

The Time Magazine honored one of the protesters, Bilkis Dadi, 82, who had emerged as the face of the protests, as one of the 100 “most influential people of 2020.”

By the protest at Shaheen Bagh had become hugely controversial amid calls by hardline Hindu groups linked to the ruling BJP and its Hindu nationalist allies to clear the highway of demonstrators.

Police finally removed the demonstrators in late March after citing a ban on public gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic. EFE-EPA


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