Expressing confidence that they would find a solution to the blockade of a public road due to the Shaheen Bagh sit-in protest, a two-member mediation panel of the Supreme Court told protesters during an interaction Wednesday that “liberty lies in the hearts of men and women”.
The panel, comprising advocate Sadhana Ramachandran and senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, was appointed by the apex court Monday after it acknowledged that people have a fundamental right to protest, but that there were “lines and boundaries” for expression of views in a democracy.
Welcomed by protesters on a stage set up at the site, the mediators initially faced resistance when they demanded a dialogue with people at the venue without the presence of media. The panel also read out the Supreme Court order from Monday to the protesters.
Ramachandran told the crowd, “Supreme Court has said that you have a right to protest, but like us there are other citizens who also have rights, like those who use this road… we want to come up with a solution with you on the Supreme Court order. Solution should be yours. Whose andolan is it and whose solution should it be? Does anyone here want someone else’s right to end? We want to listen to you. In our country we respect each other’s views… I have faith that we will come up with such a solution that will become an example to the whole world.”
In an interaction later, the panel was told that the protest site occupies a 150-metre area on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh road stretch, which can be opened by the police, leaving out the site.
“Barricades have been put up on three sides of the road by the Delhi and UP Police. It’s not like we do not support people who are facing difficulties. We move the barricades to let ambulances, police cars, and school buses pass through, and even private vehicles that are in emergency,” a protester told the panel.
Many elderly and woman protesters, who are leading the agitation, took turns to present their views.
One of them said: “Inconvenience (due to road blockade) is an excuse to end the protest. If they are not listening to us here, will they listen to us if we move somewhere else? A lot of misinformation is being spread about us, that we are creating problems. We ourselves are in so much trouble that we are out on the street. You should relay our inconvenience to the government. This ‘my way or the highway’ approach won’t work. There needs to be a dialogue from both sides.”
Hegde said he was quite “influenced (prabhavit)” by the depth with which the protesters spoke and added that he was reminded of the saying ‘Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women’. He said, “…as long as people like you take the Constitution and move forward, iss desh me azadi barkarar rahegi (freedom shall sustain in this country).” This invited loud cheers and claps from the crowd.
The panel was also told that the protesting women and men were going through “mental and physical trauma” because their “existence was being questioned” and they were being attacked upon. They were also told that the agitation won’t end until the new citizenship law, along with the National Population Register and a proposed National Register of Citizens, is rolled back.
A protester said, “Before December 15, I didn’t know Shaheen Bagh existed in Delhi, but now there are Shaheen Baghs across the country and this one (in Delhi) is giving strength to them all. We request that this agitation not be ended until the citizenship law is rolled back.”
The interlocutors will return to the protest site Thursday to continue interacting with the protesters.
In a statement released later in the day, Ramachandran said, “We have had a fruitful first meeting with protesters at Shaheen Bagh today. We met a whole lot of very proud Indians who have great confidence in their constitutional institutions. There was great appreciation of the Supreme Court and its important belief in a democratic dialogue. It is very important for aggrieved parties to be heard, is how we saw it. And everyone expressed their confidence, as joint co-citizens of this country, that together we can find a feasible solution.”
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