Protesters block a road in Delhi's Shaheen Bagh earlier this year
Protesters block a road in Delhi's Shaheen Bagh earlier this year

The Supreme Court judgment on Wednesday might have become infructuous since the Shaheen Bagh sit-in against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act had to be lifted following the Covid-19 lockdown. But it holds an important lesson nonetheless both for the guardians of law and order and citizens exercising their democratic right to protest and agitate for or against public causes.

A three-member bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul,while pronouncing the order on a petition seeking removal of protesters from a busy thoroughfare causing a huge traffic chaos, observed that public spaces and public ways cannot be occupied while exercising one’s right to protest against a legislation. Democracy and dissent go in hand alright but dissent has to be expressed in a regulated manner so as not to become a nuisance to fellow citizens. This should caution against a variety of agitators, whether engaged in political mobilisation or trade union activism, not to disrupt normal life while holding protests.

Unfortunately, over the years it has become de rigueur for agitators of all stripes and shapes to indulge in disruption of normal life with 'rasta rokos' and 'chakka jams' in order to garner media attention. The sad part of democratic life in our country is, a peaceful protest, barely attracts notice. Without creating some sort of 'hangama', without ensuring that the police are obliged to fire at least a couple of tear-gas shells to disperse the crowd, organisers believe, not without reason, that the media will not take note. If you are looking for mention in the next day’s papers, protesters believe they have to break the law, indulge in acts of arson, rioting etc.

Coming back to the apex court judgment in the Shaheen Bagh case, it is a fact that without blocking a widely used artery connecting South Delhi to NOIDA, Faridabad and beyond, they would not have become the talk of the town as they did within days of erecting a huge stage in the middle of the road. Tens of thousands of daily commuters were inconvenienced. Disapproving the action, the court said such dissent/protest can be expressed at designated places only. It is a salutary order to that extent.

Significantly, the order quoted the inputs received from the two court-appointed interlocutors who engaged with the Shaheen Bagh protest. It revealed what had been known to the authorities and others all along. Women were virtually pawns in the hands of Muslim men who masterminded the operation, controlling it in every minute detail. Sections of the media had exposed this fact but they were pilloried because the anti-Modi elements in the media and civil society had so romanticised the protest a commonsensical understanding of the nature of the Muslim society in the ghetto-like areas in and around the Jamia Millia campus was easily brushed under the carpet.

Of course, everyone, rich or poor, literate or illiterate is free to protest against or support the government of the day, but the existence of hidden agendas and clandestine funding ought to have been a matter of concern for all freedom-loving Indians. Given that the court-appointed interlocutors, known to be sympathetic to the Shaheen Bagh protest, also threw light on the seamier side of the protest, with Muslim men virtually directing the operation notionally fronted by Muslim housewives, ought to be commended. Transparency too is a sine qua non of a democratic system. Obscurantist forces were the real force behind Shaheen Bagh but the media and civil society chose to look the other way.

Welcome relief for Rhea Chakraborty

The grant of bail to Rhea Chakraborty by the Bombay High Court on Wednesday will, hopefully, mark the end of her troubles following the tragic death of her live-in partner Sushant Singh Rajput. More importantly, sections of the audio-visual media in particular will now leave her alone for her to be able to pick up the threads of her faltering Bollywood career yet again.

The feeling that she was a collateral victim of a vicious campaign aimed at exploiting the death of a promising young actor with an eye on the coming Bihar Assembly poll is unavoidable. She was. And a myriad of state agencies gratuitously became a tool in her harassment. The role of the Narcotics Control Bureau was particularly nasty, in harassing her and a host of other Bollywood-connected individuals.

Small, occasional and recreational use of ganja or some such other opiate in minuscule quantifies to ward off depression or just for the heck of it may well be frowned upon but it is not something on which the entire might of the national drug-fighter should have been singularly focused. It was nothing short of a witch-hunt. Not done.

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Free Press Journal