Two Supreme Court-appointed mediators visited Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh locality on Wednesday to convince the anti-Citizenship Act protestors to move their protest elsewhere, Hindustan Times reported. Advocates Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran were given the task by the top court during a hearing on Monday.
“We have come here according to the order of Supreme Court,” Hegde told the crowd at the protest site, which has been occupied since mid-December. “We hope to speak to everyone. We hope to resolve the matter with everybody’s cooperation.”
Ramachandran said the court had noted during Monday’s proceedings that the residents of Shaheen Bagh have the right to protest. “The law [Citizenship Amendment Act] has been challenged in the Supreme Court,” she added, echoing the judges’ observations. “But like us, others too have their rights, like right to use roads, open their shops. Your rights must not trample on others.”
“We want to find a solution to the problem together,” she said. “We will listen to everyone.”
However, many protestors maintained that the would clear the site only after the controversial legislation was removed. Responding to the concerns raised by the protesting women, Ramachandran said all their points would be put forward before the Supreme Court and discussed in detail. “However, I want to say one thing,” she said. “A country that has daughters like you can never face any threats.”
An elderly woman at the protest site pointed out that protestors had not blocked the entire stretch. “It is the Delhi Police which barricaded the whole road in the name of security,” she said. “Why don’t you get that removed first? We never asked police or any authority to block the roads for us. It is they who did it and are now blaming us for the blockade.”
She said the protestors would clear the site in no time if National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act is removed. “They call us traitors,” she added. “When we pushed Britishers out of the country, who are Narendra Modi and Amit Shah? We won’t move an inch even if someone fires at us.”
Another woman broke down while talking to the interlocutors. She said they were protesting to save the Constitution but people can only see the inconvenience of commuters. “Aren’t we facing inconvenience sitting here in cold nights, without food, taking our children to the protest,” she asked. “We are ourselves so troubled, what trouble will we cause to citizens?”
She rejected the allegations that protestors were not letting ambulances and vehicles pass. “The road hasn’t been blocked by us,” she added. “In fact, it is the Centre that has blocked freedom in this country.”
Shaheen Bagh has become the epicentre of protests against the amended citizenship law and the proposed National Register of Citizens. The Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch in Delhi has been closed since December 15 after protestors, mainly women and children, began the sit-in.
The protest has been challenged in the Supreme Court by petitioners claiming that the demonstrators have blocked traffic. While a lawyer for an intervenor told the court that essential services like school buses and ambulance services were being provided passage, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta claimed there was a total blockade.
On Monday, the top court asked Hegde and Ramachandran to convince the protestors to go to an alternative site. The top court also asked the two advocates to speak to former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah for assistance. The plea will be heard again on February 24.
The court said the protestors cannot block a road to exercise their right. “Democracy works on expression of views,” Justice SK Kaul said at Monday’s proceedings. “But there are lines and boundaries. If you wish to protest, while the matter is being heard here, that’s also okay...Blocking traffic and causing inconvenience is our concern.”
Scroll.in has mapped the roads in the area and found that public inconvenience was being caused not just because of the closure of GD Birla Marg, an arterial road that connects Delhi to Noida in Uttar Pradesh. Two alternative routes that could have been used by commuters have been barricaded by Delhi and Uttar Pradesh Police. While Delhi Police officers claimed the barricades in front of the entry to the alternative routes were just “a security measure”, the Uttar Pradesh Police said they did it because of the Delhi Police’s barricades.
Meanwhile, protestors at Shaheen Bagh said they would carry on with their demonstration. “We are asked to move, we will move but the protests will continue,” Mehjabeen Khan, one of the protestors, told Hindustan Times. Another protestor, who identified herself as Shaheeda Sheikh, told the newspaper that those who commute to Noida every day should take a parallel highway. “When the parallel road to the highway is open as well as all lanes of Shaheen Bagh except this road, why the applicants want to use only this road?” she asked.