What Happens When You Try to Protest Against the Supreme Court?

People protesting against the clean chit given to CJI Ranjan Gogoi on sexual harassment allegations were told to leave, and detained by the police when they refused.

On the hot morning of Tuesday (May 7), a group of women slowly began to gather outside the parking lot of Gate C of the Supreme Court. On the other side of the road was a large police contingent, with a water cannon on standby.

“Are you with the protest? We’re here,” said one protestor calling out to another.

“Shouldn’t we pull out the placards?”

“No no, keep them in for now. They’re going to take us away as soon as they see them.”

The gathering had been organised by people protesting the violation of due process that had taken place the previous day, when an in-house committee of the Supreme Court tasked with inquiring into the allegation of sexual harassment against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi granted him a “clean chit”. The court also said the committee would not be disclosing its reasoning. The women who came to protest said they were angry that the man at the helm of an institution dedicated to upholding the law had been “held above it”.

There were more police than protestors. This was less a comment on the lack of protest than on the attitude of the state towards free speech, especially on the subject of the CJI.

Also read: A Multi-Layered Indian Judicial Crisis

Among the various ways in which due process had been suspended during the Gogoi incident, legal experts say, is the fact that the court called the Central Bureau of Investigation, Delhi Police and Intelligence Bureau to investigate a ‘conspiracy to take down the judiciary’ even as the in-house committee was put in place to inquire into the complainant’s charges. “It is obvious to anyone, even those not trained in law, that where one panel is looking into a matter in good faith, it is procedurally unfair to constitute another panel that assumes the negative outcome of the first panel,” said Shruti Rajgopalan on the subject.

The police tried to disperse the protestors, along with the media, saying that Section 144 had been applied as it was a sensitive area.

A protestor said, “We are just standing here, you can’t ask us to move.”

A police man responded saying, “Why are you here?”

The protestor responded, “For the same reason you are.”

They told them to move and tried to shift them into different places, saying that it was a traffic issue for a large group to be gathered. The protestors complied, forming a line, and raised their placards, with like “We want justice, not justification,” and “Law maker or Law breaker?”

When asked why they were protesting, one protestor said, “This is the Supreme Court and there has been no justice here. If in the temple of justice injustice has happened on such a scale, what remains for the rest of the country?”

Also read: ‘Scared, Dejected’, Says Ex-Staffer after Panel Finds ‘No Substance’ in Complaint Against CJI

At the point at which the protestors began shouting, “Supreme Court nyay dilao (Supreme Court, we want justice)”, the police began to forcibly take them away. A combination of male and female police officers put the protestors into waiting police trucks, using force to do so.

When asked at the police station about this, a lady police officer said, “Dhakka toh hota hai. We were taking care with the lady protestors. The men protestors get much worse.” The dancer and actor Maya Krishna Rao, who had a broken arm in a cast, said that the police paid no attention to it when shoving her into the truck.

When I asked why we were being taken away and on what charges, a policewoman halfheartedly grabbed at my phone. Asked later whether she believed in what was happening, she said, unhappily, that she was doing her job. When asked directly whether she thought what happened with the Supreme Court was right, she simply said that it was not, and then couldn’t comment.

The protestors, still chanting slogans, were taken in a bus staffed nearly exclusively with women police officers, to the Mandir Marg police station. Asked what the protocol was, a lady police officer said that they would simply be kept there for a few hours, with names taken down and then released. And would they be charged with anything?  “Of course not,” she replied. “Nobody here has actually committed a crime.”