New Delhi: Soon after Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, protests broke out against it. This was even before President Ram Nath Kovind had signed it into a law.
Ever since, demonstrations against the law — which promises citizenship to non-Muslim illegal migrants of six communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — have erupted across the country in cities, towns and campuses. Several parts of the country have seen internet shutdowns, immediate detentions as well as imposition of Section 144.
Amid police crackdowns and violent protests, some people turned to the Supreme Court for a direction to set up a committee to look into the incidents. The court, however, refused to allow the plea on 17 December, saying these panels may be appointed by the high courts, instead.
With the Supreme Court having passed on the mantle, high courts have dealt with such pleas ranging from refusing immediate relief, to questioning the government over detentions and internet shutdowns.
Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia being the epicentre of the protests against the citizenship law, all eyes were on Delhi High Court’s handling of the petition demanding a judicial probe into the violence there.
A battery of senior advocates such as Indira Jaising, Colin Gosalves, Sanjay Hegde, Hariharan, Salman Khurshid, Vinay Garg, Rebecca John and Wasim Qadri argued in favour of setting up a court-monitored committee headed by a retired high court or Supreme Court judge.
On 19 December, a bench comprising Chief Justice D.N. Patel and C. Hari Shankar heard the petitioners’ arguments for over an hour.
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The petitioners had demanded some interim relief such as preservation of CCTV footage, a direction to the authorities to provide free medical care to the injured students, and a restraint against initiating any legal proceedings against these students.
However, on completion of petitioners’ arguments, the court did not grant any of the interim relief sought and suggested that the matter be posted for 4 March 2020. On collective gasps from the courtroom, the bench changed the date to 4 February 2020.
The order was, however, met with loud cries of “shame! Shame!” from the lawyers and others present in court.
While the matter still remains pending, chief justice Patel has agreed to refer the allegedly contemptuous incident to a committee.
Shutting mobile internet brings ‘life to grinding halt’
However, the same day, relief came from Gauhati High Court, which directed the Assam government to restore internet services of all mobile service providers from 5 pm. Internet services were suspended across Assam on 11 December after violent protests began against the citizenship law.
The Assamese have mounted resistance against the law for reasons different from the rest of the country. Their fears pertain to the law benefiting Bengali Hindu migrants from Bangladesh who have settled in large numbers across the state.
So, while people across the country are questioning the exclusion of Muslims from the law, for the Assamese it’s a question of ethnicity not religion.
The high court observed, “To say the least, with the advancement of science and technology, mobile internet services now plays a major role in the daily walks of life, so much so, shut down of the mobile internet service virtually amounts to bringing life to a grinding halt.”
Section 144 order to be tested
A day later, on 20 December, the Karnataka High Court agreed to go into the legality of an order passed under Section 144 by the police commissioner two days earlier that banned all public rallies against the citizenship law in Bengaluru.
In doing so, the court observed, “We are not concerned with the subject of the protests, our concern is about decision making process which undoubtedly curtails the fundamental rights. It is indeed a preventive measure. The preventive measure has effect of curtailing fundamental rights of citizens.”
The bench, headed by Chief Justice Abhay Oka, also asked the state, “As far as law is concerned you cannot prohibit peaceful protest. Can state proceed on the assumption that every protest will be violent?”
The state government has been directed to file its response by 6 January 2020, after which an early date for hearing will be fixed on 7 January 2020.
UP govt questioned on arrest memo, medical examination
The Allahabad High Court directed the UP police to produce the arrest memo for Mohammad Shoaib, a Lucknow-based senior lawyer and president of human rights group Rihai Manch.
This was after Shoaib’s family members claimed he was detained by the UP police ahead of the scheduled nationwide protest against the citizenship law on 20 December and has not been traceable since.
Posting the matter for 2 January, the court also ordered the UP government to produce documents to show that Shoaib was medically examined after the arrest.
Sunday hearing and drones
The Madras High Court conducted a special Sunday hearing on 22 December to hear PILs opposing the DMK’s proposed rally against the citizenship law Monday.
During the hearing, the counsel for Tamil Nadu government informed the court that the police had denied permission for the protest as the organisers did not display firm commitment to owning responsibility in case of any violence and damage to property.
The court refused to stop the rally, asserting that “in a democratic country, a peaceful demonstration cannot be prevented, as it is the backbone of the democratic set up”.
It, however, ordered the police to videograph the protest and use “drone technology” if necessary, “so that liability can be foisted on the leaders and not on the followers”.
Bengal govt to suspend ads against CAA, NRC
Calcutta High Court Monday directed the West Bengal government to suspend all media campaigns related to the citizenship law and NRC.
The development came as a setback to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the citizenship law and NRC. She was the first chief minister to declare that she would not allow the two moves to be implemented in West Bengal.
Most of the media campaigns and ads featured Banerjee herself assuring the people that the citizenship law and NRC will not be implemented in Bengal.
The petitioners before the court claimed that the ads were being put out using public money. The court has posted the matter for hearing on 9 January 2020.
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