People who are protesting peacefully against one law cannot be called "traitors" or "anti-nationals", the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court has said. The high court's order came on a plea by Maharashtra resident Iftekhar Shaikh, who asked the court to allow him and others to sit on a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in Maharashtra's Beed district.
A district magistrate and the police had refused permission to Mr Shaikh, 45, to hold the protest.
"The submissions made show that there will be no question of disobedience of provisions of CAA by such agitation. Thus, this court is expected to consider the right of such persons to start agitation in a peaceful way. This court wants to express that such persons cannot be called as traitors, anti-nationals only because they want to oppose one law. It will be act of protest and only against the government for the reason of CAA," a division bench of Justices TV Nalavade and MG Sewlikar said on Thursday.
"India got freedom due to agitations which were non-violent and this path of non-violence is followed by the people of this country till this date. We are fortunate that most of the people of this country still believe in non-violence. In the present matter also the petitioners and companions want to agitate peacefully to show their protest," the court said in the order.
Groups of people are organising sit-ins at several places across the country, the most prominent among them being the protest against the CAA at south Delhi's Shaheen Bagh, where hundreds of people led by women have dug in on a stretch of road for over two months now.
The court said the orders passed by the magistrate and the police were only because Mr Shaikh wanted to protest against the CAA, which fast-tracks the process of giving citizenship to persecuted non-Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Critics say the law discriminates against Muslims, while the government maintains it doesn't affect Indian citizens.
"...We must keep in mind that we are a democratic republic country and our Constitution has given us rule of law and not rule of majority. When such act (CAA) is made, some people may be of a particular religion like Muslims may feel that it is against their interest and such act needs to be opposed. It is a matter of their perception and belief and the court cannot go into the merits of that perception or belief.
"The courts are bound to see whether these persons have right to agitate, oppose the law. If the court finds that it is part of their fundamental right, it is not open to the court to ascertain whether the exercise of such right will create law and order problem. That is the problem of a political government. In such cases, it is the duty of the government to approach such persons, have talk with them and try to convince them," Justices TV Nalavade and MG Sewlikar said in the order, and ruled that the order by the magistrate and the police was illegal.