Shaheen Bagh protesters upset over ‘traitor’ tag, says former CIC in affidavit
Protesters at Shaheen Bagh pushed for the Supreme Court to hear petitions on the contentious new citizenship law as the central government had not engaged with them to understand their concerns over the law and a possible national register of citizens (NRC). They are also anguished at being labelled “traitors” and “Pakistanis”.
These were among the points highlighted by former chief information commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah, in an affidavit filed with the Supreme Court. Habibullah is one of the three interlocutors, the others being senior lawyers Sanjay Hegde, Sadhna Ramachandran, appointed by the apex court to find a solution to the protests at Shaheen Bagh.
Habibullah is an intervenor in a plea before the Supreme Court by advocate Amit Sahni and BJP leader Nand Kishore Garg seeking lifting of road blockade at Shaheen Bagh.
In his affidavit, the former CIC told the court that the women at the protest site had requested him to place their view point before the court.
The protestors, the affidavit said, reaffirmed that they are proud citizens of the country.
“That while they are proud citizens of the country, they are deeply hurt at being abused and labelled as anti-national/outsiders/ traitors/ Pakistanis in various political speeches as well as a section of the media.”
The protesting ladies were expressing peaceful dissent against the citizenship amendment Act (CAA) since the controversial steps on CAA along with the National Register of Citizens could sound the “death knell for their survival and existence”, the affidavit stated.
They said that they chose the particular site for protest because “it gives them the much required security because it is flanked on both sides by the Shaheen Bagh colony”. Therefore, the chances of “threatened attacks on them are considerably less than they would have been if the protest had been held at any place away from the present site.”
Besides detailing the concerns expressed by the protestors, Habibullah also stated that after personal inspection, he found that the police has unnecessarily barricaded roads unconnected to the protest and are “wrongly laying the blame on the protest.”
“It is these barricading of unconnected roads that has led to a chaotic situation”, Habibullah submitted.
The protestors at Shaheen Bagh are opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed on December 12, 2019. The CAA amends Section 2 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, which defines “illegal migrants” by adding a proviso to Section 2 (1)(b). As per this new proviso, any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, and who have been exempted by the Central Government under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or the Foreigners Act, 1946, shall not be treated as “illegal migrant”. Consequently, such persons shall be eligible to apply for citizenship by naturalisation, which is laid down under Section 6 of the 1955 act.
However, the Muslim community did not find a place in the proviso thereby excluding Muslim illegal migrants from availing the opportunity to apply for Indian citizenship, a benefit which was extended to illegal migrants from the other six communities by this amendment.
The exclusion of Muslim community from the proviso has led to widespread protests across the country, as has the linking of citizenship with religion. There have also been protests against a proposed all-India
National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the potential problems in the two working in combination.
Shaheen Bagh has been the epicenter of such protests in the national capital.
Advocate Amit Sahni and BJP leader Nand Kishore Garg had moved the Supreme Court seeking lift of road blockade in the Shaheen Bagh – Kalindi Kunj stretch.
Sahni in his plea stated that the road closure at Shaheen bagh causes great inconvenience to public at large. The road closure and the consequent traffic diversion have led to the wastage of precious time energy and fuel besides overburdening the DND, Akshardham and Ashram routes.
Sahni stated that while people have the right to protest, the same is subject to reasonable restrictions and protestors cannot be allowed to occupy public roads indefinitely.
The Supreme Court had tasked senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran to mediate with the protestors and come to a constructive solution to resolve the issue.
The court remarked that while right to protest is a fundamental right, such demonstrations and protests cannot be held on public roads for indefinite period.
The court had also given liberty to Habibullah’s counsel to discuss the issue of road blockade with the protesters.