Ever since the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act became law on December 12, 2019, protests have taken place across the country in condemnation of the law. With students in colleges spearheading the protests, civil society groups and citizens have also mobilised to express their dissent against the Act which excludes Muslims from its ambit.
In many parts of the country, including Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai, police have denied permission to protesters on Thursday. Nevertheless, people are showing up to protests.
According to the lawyers TNM spoke to, during such protests, citizens have certain fundamental rights when they are detained by the police.
Difference between arrest and detention
An arrest is a more formal form of restraining a person’s freedom of movement while a detention is less formal. Experts say that while the rules for an arrest are well-defined, a detention is largely guided by the standard operating procedure in each district/city. However, in neither case can a person who is detained or arrested be subject to physical violence of any kind.
Protesters in recent days have mostly been detained and not arrested. For example, protesting students at Madras University in Chennai were loaded into buses on Wednesday (ie., detention) and released shortly thereafter.
Lawyers familiar with the Police Act say that a detained person is only to be held for a short period of time. When you are detained by the police at a protest, it generally means the police ushers you into a vehicle and holds you at the local police station or a large hall. Since the detention is aimed at fizzling out the protest, the police cannot take possession of your personal belongings. However, since the detention is only for a short period of time, there are no special rights enshrined for the detainee.
Since there is, technically, no record of your detention, you are not required to inform the police of your personal details as long as you are only detained. Women have to be detained separately from men. You can also ask the detaining officers about why you are being detained.
If women and children under 15 are needed by the police for questioning only, this can happen only at the place of their residence.
If you are being arrested, however, you have well-established rights to protect you. If the police are arresting you, you must demand a memo of your arrest. You cannot be arrested without being charged with a specific crime. Thus, a memo of your arrest is an important document that you need to be given.
The police officers must identify themselves to you before arresting you. For women citizens, the arresting officer must be a woman and the arrest needs to be carried out only after sunrise and before sunset.
You need to be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of your arrest. Similar to the Miranda warning in the United States, you can demand to speak to a lawyer. You also have the right to medical assistance if you are injured.