Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre passed the Citizenship Amendment Act in Parliament earlier this month, the courts have been exceptionally busy. About 60 petitions were filed against the legislation in the Supreme Court, urging the judges to rule on whether it is actually constitutional.

When protests broke out across India shortly after against the law, which critics say erodes the secular nature of the country and discriminates against Muslims, the courts were approached by scores of people seeking protection against police action and reiterating the right to protest.

There has been notable variance in how different courts have responded to these petitions. While the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the case of the police action against Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University protests, the Karnataka, Madras and Guwahati High Courts took up matters and ruled in favour of liberty.

Supreme Court

On December 17, two days after the police entered the Jamia Millia Islamia university campus in New Delhi and thrashed students, several petitioners moved the Supreme Court pleading for an order that would stop coercive penal action against the protesting students. The petitions also wanted the Supreme Court to form an independent committee to investigate the violence and alleged police excesses. The petitions included those seeking a probe into the violence at the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh the same evening.

A bench led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde refused to entertain the petitions and asked the petitioners to moved the respective High Courts for relief. High Courts have the liberty to appoint retired judges to carry out inquiries after hearing the Union and the state governments, the bench said. It also reiterated that the Supreme Court was not a trial court to establish facts.

The police at Aligarh Muslim University on December 15. Credit: PTI

During the arguments, when lawyers for the petitioners pointed to arbitrary police detentions, the bench asked what the police was supposed to do if not file first information reports when public property is damaged.

With regards the 60 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Centre on December 19 and posted the matter for January 22.

High Courts

Various kinds of petitions were moved in High Courts across the country, with varying results.

After the Supreme Court asked the petitioners to approach the High Courts to seek protection for students against coercive penal action or to ask for independent investigations into the police excesses, petitions were moved in the Delhi High Court on the violence on Jamia Millia Islamia university campus.

The Delhi High Court refused to provide any interim protection to the students and issued notices to the Centre, the Delhi government and the police on the demand for a fact-finding committee. It then posted the matter to February 24. During the proceedings, cries of “shame, shame” were heard in the courtroom. The next day, the High Court agreed to form a committee to look into the incident after several lawyers mentioned it before the judges.

Last week, the Guwahati High Court ruled in favour of freedom of speech and expression when it asked the state government to restore mobile internet services that were suspended due to protests. On December 19, the court ruled that the initial justification for suspending mobile internet in the city on December 11 was no longer available. A day later, the High Court also refused to entertain review petitions against the order restoring internet services.

On December 19, the Allahabad High Court took up a petition that sought a court monitored judicial committee to investigate the violence at the Aligarh Muslim University on the evening of December 15. The High Court ordered the administration to provide medical assistance to students and all others injured during the clashes. It also recorded the fears of the petitioner that CCTV evidence of the police brutality was being erased.

The court ordered notices to the state government and the police and posted the matter for further hearing on January 2.

Policemen patrol outside the Jamia Milia University following a protest against a new citizenship law, in New Delhi on December 15. Credit: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

On December 20, the Karnataka High Court heard petitions against police detentions during anti-CAA protests in Bengaluru and the passing of a blanket prohibitory order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure across the state. The court said it would examine the legality of the prohibitory orders as they were preventive in nature and affected the fundamental rights of citizens.

“Whether permission granted to a protest can be revoked using Section 144 is something that has to be gone into,” the court stated and posted the matter for hearing on January 6.

On December 22, the Madras High Court decided to sit for a rare Sunday evening session to hear a petition seeking ban on a protest march planned by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The police had denied permission for the march citing law and order situation. While the court neither expressly allowed nor denied permission, it asked the police to videograph the demonstration.

On December 24, the Delhi High Court refused to entertain a petition filed against last week’s mobile services shutdown in parts of New Delhi as the ban was no longer in place.

Tiz Hazari

Following the violence in New Delhi’s Daryaganj on December 20, the Delhi police arrested 16 people, including Bhim Army chief Chandrashekar Azad and filed cases under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including for rioting.

A metropolitan magistrate at the Tiz Hazari court complex sent Azad to 14 days judicial custody and 15 others to two days judicial custody. Not only this, the judge decided to hold the proceedings in the Azad case in-camera, denying the media access to his bail hearing.

On Monday, a magistrate denied bail to the 15 others citing the seriousness of the cases filed against them, stating that such kind of incidents create panic in society and that violence for any reason is not justified.