Is Dissent Even A Right Anymore?
What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019? On December 12, 2019, the Citizenship Amendment Bill received the President's assent and the 1955 Act stood amended to that effect.It is no surprise that this controversial piece of legislation has received a lot of flak for being 'constitutionally immoral.' Let us now try to understand the changes that have been brought about by this amendment:
· Section 2 of the Citizenship Act, a clause has been inserted changing the definition of illegal immigrants to not include Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis and Buddhists ("specified communities") belonging to Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan ("specified countries") who had come to India on or before the December 31,2014.
· The other significant alteration was the insertion of sub-section B to section 6 which empowered the Central Government for granting citizenship to the category as mentioned earlier of people and not treating them as illegal migrants, as defined u/s 2 of the impugned Act.
· The last change has been made in Third Schedule of the Act under clause (d)through the addition of a new provision, thereby modifying the total period of government service or residence (immediately predating the period of 12 months) before applying for naturalization from 11 years to 5 years.
The outrage and its ruthless suppression
Immediately after the amendment came into force, various PILs were filed before the Supreme Court on the grounds that it violated Articles 14, 21 and 25 and was against the standard of reasonableness that has been established by the Apex Court. Massive protests were organized in several parts of the country on the 13th of December itself, including educational institutions such as the Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University,Jawaharlal Nehru University and various IITs against the problematic legislation. These peaceful protests and processions were met by the police in a ruthless manner who resorted to using tear gas and batons against the demonstrators.
Whenever there is a situation of public unrest, it a well-known fact that the administration does not delay much in imposing Section 144 CrPC. Curfews were enforced in several pockets of the country, and internet access was restricted in several states such as Delhi,Uttar Pradesh and Assam. The irony here lies in the fact that the said provision which was used by our former overlords, i.e. the British for oppressing nationalist movements is now being unabashedly used by Indian oppressors for stopping peaceful and legal demonstrations as well as for detaining large numbers of people.
Human Rights violations in Uttar Pradesh: Why was the NHRC forced to look into the matter?
The provision of Section 144 CrPC was used to brutally muzzle the movement against the draconian citizenship law in Uttar Pradesh as well, and the same came under the NHRC's radar as an outright violation of human rights. Seventeen deaths were reported in UP out of which 14 were caused due to firearm injuries inflicted by the police, contradicting their claims.
Illegal detention of protestors by the police,torturing and destruction of public property are a few of the issues that the NHRC decided to look into which brings us to the vital question, how is the damage caused going to be redressed? The results of the preliminary enquiry against the DGP of UP are awaited, which would clear air of the communal nature that police brutality has assumed by bringing the wrongdoers to justice.
The Way Ahead: Judicial reprieve at the moment of need
Deciding upon the Kashmir issue, the Apex Court opined that use of the internet as a mode of free speech and expression is protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and any restraint on the same should be based upon reasonable grounds, for example when needed to combat an emergency. The Apex Court also observed that imposition of section 144 CrPC causes a direct impact on the fundamental rights of people at large, it should be enforced and limited to a particular area or issues. This judgement creates a significant doubt about the constitutionality of its prolonged and wide-ranging imposition in various parts of UP, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The right to dissent is a civil liberty guaranteed by the Constitution, and it cannot be curbed to satisfy ulterior motives on the government's part. The only ray of hope in such circumstances is the judiciary and administration of swift justice is instrumental in ensuring that the pillars of equity, fairness and reasonableness keep standing firm.
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