If a government passes a new bill that has some flaws and the citizens don’t oppose the bill by protesting or the citizens are not even allowed to protest. Will that country be called Democracy? Protesting and asking questions are the most important elements to control the powers of the government. It is a sin to be silent when you must protest. We got our independence from the East India Company by protesting, our freedom fighters performed many peaceful protests like ‘Quit India Movement’, ‘Swadesi’ and ‘Satyagraha’. They set an example for the world that war and violence is not the only answer. Now in today's India, do we have the Right to Protest? Let’s understand the answer to this question in this article.
A protest is a method of expressing criticism or disapproval of any policy or action of a government. The main purpose behind protests is to catechize the government about the policy or action and expect the government to answer systematically. Protests also assist the government to find the flaws in their action or policy leading to amelioration. In a democracy the citizens enjoy two core political rights, the first right is that every citizen can elect their representative and form government and the second right is that citizens can challenge the government proposals or actions peacefully. Peaceful public protests are the symbol of a democratic and republic country.
Article 19 of the Indian Constitution
Article 19 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the Indians the Right to Protest Peacefully. Article 19 (1) (a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression to all Indian Citizens. This article gives us the right to openly express our opinions through means such as gestures or speaking with mouth or posting a tweet. Article 19 (1) (b) assures Indian Citizens the right to assemble peacefully without arms, which is to hold public meetings or to organize a rally. Article 19 (2) imposes certain restrictions on the citizens, these restrictions are to protect the interests of the integrity of India. The reasonable restrictions are –
In case of violation of public order
If friendly relations with foreign states are threatened
If India’s sovereignty and integrity are threatened
If the security of the state is in danger
If there is contempt of court
Landmark Judgements on Right to Protest
Amit Sahni v. Commissioner of Police
In December 2019 when the Modi Government passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. The passed bill resulted in many protests led in different parts of the country and one famous protest led to the closure of the district Shaheen Bagh in Delhi. On 14 January 2020, a writ petition was filed in the honourable High Court of Delhi; the petitioner was against the protest saying that public roads should not be permitted to be encroached upon in this manner. Delhi High Court guided the authorities to take the mandatory steps but didn’t give distinct direction and the situation remained the same in Shaheen Bagh. Subsequently, Amit Sahni filed the same appeal in Supreme Court against the order of the Delhi High Court, demanding the removal of people from the protest site. In the judgment Supreme Court said that protesters don’t have the right to occupy public places for an indefinite period, the court further observed that the public roads which are blocked by the protestors are causing inconvenience to the general public living in that area. Therefore, the administration has the right to clear the public area which is causing trouble. The court also referred to the case Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan v. Union of India Anr, 2018. In this case, people were protesting on the Jantar Mantar Road, the petitioner demanded the court to pass suitable orders directing the administration to dismiss the protestors of Jantar Mantar Road. In this case, also the residents were facing problems because of the protests going on. In both, cases the Supreme Court talked about the Right to Commute of the local residents and the Right to Hold Demonstrations of the protestors. By balancing the rights of both residents and protestors the Supreme Court guided the administration to use proper mechanisms and give the protestors a limited area for conducting protests and to create proper guidelines for a further situation like this.
Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union of India and Ors
In 2011 Bharat Swabhiman Trust applied an application to Municipal Corporation Delhi, proposing Ramlila Maidan on rent for organizing yoga training camp for June 1st to 20th 2011. On June 4th Baba Ramdev started a hunger strike with the motto “Bhrashtachar Mitao Satyagrah”, the yoga camp was converted into an Anshan and more than 50 thousand people were gathered in the Ramlila Maidan and no yoga training was done that entire day. After many negotiations were done by the government to stop the protest, Section 144 of CrPC was imposed, and around 5000 Delhi police, CRPF, and Rapid Action Force soldiers enter the Maidan in the night and threw out the sleeping protestors forcefully. In this case, the Supreme Court said that “Citizens have Fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest which cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action”.
Right to Peaceful Protest
Article 19 gives us the right to raise demands by doing peaceful protests whereas article 51(a) which is a fundamental duty asks every citizen to safeguard or protect public property. Therefore, by reading these two articles we can understand that only peaceful protests are lawful in India. If the motive of any protest is to create outrage and violence then those protests are not lawful. For example, if while protesting you block the highways and railway tracks then your protest is unlawful. You have the right to protest but while protesting you also have to keep in mind that you are not causing inconvenience to the general public, because of protest the right to commute and the right to live peacefully of the general public should not be harmed.
We can observe that protests are one of the most important elements of democracy; a peaceful protest is the fundamental right and helps the democratic state to function properly. When there is injustice it becomes the moral duty of a person to protest. The government must modulate the effective exercise of the Right to Protest. The ideal government welcomes reasonable suggestions, criticism, and demands of the citizens. An ideal citizen also must use every fundamental right which the constitution gives adequately and should not oppose the policies and actions of the government unnecessary. As Edward Abbey said, “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”