Right to Protest

Public protests are the hallmark of a free and democratic society that is based on the logic that the elected government should take into account the voice of the people and that any decision should only be taken after proper discussion and consultation. When a nation is to develop holistically, not only the economic rights but also the citizen's civil rights must be secured, dissent and protest must be allowed, and indeed encouraged.

Right to protest: Historical context

The right to protest flows from our history, as its anti-colonial struggle forms the background of the Indian constitution. India's people struggled hard and long to express their views on colonial policies and laws, dissent from them, shape public opinion against them, and challenge colonial rule. People articulated their opposition in a number of ways, such as signing petitions for publication, organizing dharnas, conducting public meetings and protests, and launching steps. Protest is a that is part of the legacy left behind by the nation's father in the context of the Civil Disobedience Movement following Ahimsa's route.

Constitutional Backing

Right to protest as a fundamental right

The Indian constitution enshrines the freedom to demonstrate peacefully. Article 19(1)(a) guarantees freedom of expression and speech; Article 19(1)(b) guarantees citizens the right to assemble peacefully and without arms.

Article 19(2) places fair limitations on the freedom to assemble without weapons and in a peaceful way. These fair limits are placed in the interests of India's sovereignty and dignity, national security, friendly ties with foreign states, public order, honesty or morality, or in the interests of court contempt, defamation or incitement to an offence.

 

The government has no right to stifle opposition as long as there is stability in the demonstrations. In the Ramlila Maidan Incident vs. Home Secretary, Union of India & Others case (2012), the Supreme Court stated that citizens have a fundamental right of assembly and peaceful protest that an arbitrary executive or legislative action can not deprive them of.

 

Democracies are founded on two core political rights –

  • The right of every citizen to freely elect his government and to vote it out of power in a legitimately held election if he is unhappy with its results.
  • The second main political right is to engage politically not only during the elections but also during them. The right to petition, to challenge the government openly and to ensure its transparency is a constitutional right deriving from Article 19. So long as the mode of action to oppose the decisions of the government is legally valid, the government should not take any unilateral measures to quench the protest.

        

These political rights of expression, association, assembly, petition and protest are intended to ensure that citizens have to act as watchdogs and monitor their actions, even when the government works in the interests of the people. If the government goes astray from the constitutional route and is unresponsive to the people's demands, pressure must be established on the governments through conferences , meetings, dialogue and demonstrations to rectify their errors.

Conclusion

Article 51A of the Constitution makes the safeguarding of public property and abjuring violence a fundamental obligation of every person. Resorting to violence will breach this moral obligation and it undermines the very meaning of protest when the protest becomes violent. While enjoying the freedoms one must also fulfill the country's duties and obligations as a person. Having said that, one must not neglect the obligations we have as a country citizen and refrain from the temptation to baselessly criticize the government solely to exercise the right to dissent.

The government, for its part, must accept the people's legible demands and constructive criticism and, in any case, must not stifle the right to dissent. The systematic classification of opposition as anti-national or anti-democratic is counter to liberal and deliberative democratic principles.