Right to protest
Citizens are an integral part of the country whose rights and liberties need to be protected by the law as a country can function properly when the citizen of the country is untroubled and away from the arbitrariness of their government. As rules and regulations, legal framework, government everything is made for the welfare of the citizens and to make a civilised society for a citizen to live in, therefore, the constitution of India provides various rights to the citizen of India which is called fundamental rights to protect the interests of citizens.
Thus, if citizens found any action, policy or the legislation of government not proper or arbitrary, they have right to oppose and criticise and right to express their views or opinions in front of government which can be expressed by a peaceful protest.
If we look back to Indian history, freedom fighters also used peaceful protests as an instrument for the Indian freedom struggle. The father of nation Mahatma Gandhi also believed in protesting peacefully by following the principles of Ahimsa, he performed several Dharnas, protest rallies and movements against colonial policies and laws to ensure civil rights for citizens and ultimately India’s independence from Britishers.
So, it can be said after analysing history that there is no better way to challenge any policy and laws of government, protesting peacefully is one of the best ways to express opinions of people and speak against the government whenever necessary.
Too many things are required to organise a protest rally such as proper planning, money, time and many other but among them, one most essential thing needs to be emphasised by the protestors is to conduct it in compliance with the laws as the very essence of the protest get lost if any illegal material attached to it.
In modern India, many protest rallies can be witnessed for various issues prevalent according to the need of the time because in a democratic political system people have right to convey their opinion and wants to the government as the laws are made for the people and in a situation where the ideology of public and government clashes or for the want of any regulation, the public has right to express their wants or communicate by the way of peaceful protest so that their voice reach to government.
What is a Protest?
A protest is a way of expressing disapproval or objection towards any action, statement or policy of a government or of any organisation which a group of people feels to be accusing against themselves. Mostly the protest involves political issues which protestors jointly organise to make their opinions and demand heard by the government and also influence other public to support them.
The objective behind organising a protest is to publicly question the government regarding any action or policy and make them answer for the same in a systematic manner. The protest also helps the government to identify their loopholes in their actions which leads to the improvement in their working.
In a democratic system, such peaceful protest is the basic features which are open to criticism by the people by providing people right to raise their voice and express their feelings on any issue of social or national importance.
Right to Protest: A Fundamental Right
In India, fundamental rights are considered a very essential component of the basic structure of the constitution which cannot be violated in any case. These fundamental rights protect the rights of the citizens and provide remedies in case of its infringement.
Although all the rights are very important and plays different roles but among them, one foremost right which guarantees several freedoms to the citizens is article 19 of the constitution.
It provides six fundamental freedoms to its citizens such as –
- Freedom of speech and expression
- Freedom of assemble peacefully
- Freedom to form associations or unions
- Freedom of movement and reside in any part of the country
- Freedom of profession, occupation, trade or business
It is Article 19 only which provides Right to Protest also. Though the word protest is not mentioned expressly in the fundamental rights of the Indian constitution but it is implicitly derived from the thorough reading of Article 19
Right to Protest is protected under article 19(1)(a), 19(1)(b) and 19(1)(c) which provides the citizens right to freedom of speech and expression, right to assemble peaceably without arms and right to form associations or unions. These three articles constitute a right to protest under which a protestor can exercise their right to hold a protest rally against any matter of national or social importance.
- The right to free speech and expression means that every person has the right to express his views or opinions freely through any medium like gesture or by mouth etc.
- The right of peaceful assembly without arms that is to hold public meetings or take out any procession.
- The right to form associations or unions meant the right to form self-regulating clubs, professional associations or societies in matters of common concern.
The courts have many times repeated that right to protest is a fundamental right by the way of various judgements such as-
- The Supreme Court in the case In Re: Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union Of India & Ors. stated “Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest which cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action.”
- In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, Justice Bhagwati had said, “If democracy means the government of the people, by the people, it is obvious that every citizen must be entitled to participate in the democratic process and to enable him to intelligently exercise his rights of making a choice, free and general discussion of public matters is absolutely essential.”
These conclusions by the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional guarantees that citizens are entitled to Protest whenever the need arises. Such protests help in strengthening Indian democracy and allow space for peaceful dissent which not only protects the right of the citizen but also helps in rectifying the loophole. According to the observations made by the court, the right to protest is an essential component in a free democracy to safeguard the interest of citizens.
Why Right to Protest is Essential?
Government bring lots of policies in the interest of the citizens and for the growth and betterment of the country which is regularly monitored by the citizens and express their views on the same so that if any fault or loophole is there that can be solved through such peaceful protests rally to convey their opinion. So, citizens act as a watchdog and observe all the activities of the government. Here protest plays an important role to rectify the mistakes in the actions or policies.
Historically several protests have brought many changes in the constitution. For instance, Potti Sreeramulu starves himself to death for the creation of new Telugu-speaking state of Andhra and the Chipko movement to prevent the then U.P. government from awarding contracts to commercial loggers are few examples which bring many reforms. So, the protests may take the form of stronger public methods against the government.
The Government has to respect, and in fact, encourage the exercise of such rights. It is the obligation of the State to aid the exercise of the right to freedom of speech as understood in its comprehensive sense and not to frustrate the exercise of this right by exercising its executive or legislative powers or by passing orders or taking action in order to curb this right in the name of reasonable restrictions. Thus, the right to protest is an essential component of democracy to bring reforms and leads to the development of the country.
Reasonable restrictions over these Fundamental Rights
It must be remembered that all protests are legal only if they are non-violent and carried out with appropriate permissions. “Fundamental duties that are enshrined in the constitution require that the rule of law is followed and that public property is not destroyed”
These fundamental rights are not absolute and come with reasonable restrictions imposed on them as if people were given complete liberty without any control it may affect the society at large. Therefore, reasonable restrictions are imposed on this right under clause 2 to 6 of Article of the Indian constitution which includes restriction made by state law for the sake of maintaining public order.
A limitation was observed by the Supreme Court in the case Railway Board v. Niranjan Singh. The limitation stated one’s right to protest/assemble does not extend to someone else’s right to property.
All reasonable restrictions are imposed for the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order and cannot be arbitrary in nature. So, the citizens need to remember and fulfil their duties as well while exercising their rights.
What permissions are required to hold a Protest rally?
The permits which would be required to hold a protest rally vary from state to state as states have provided with the powers to make laws relating to the maintenance of public order.
Generally, a person needs only a Police permit and a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Police. The police have powers to not grant a permit if it finds the rally to be against public order. That can only be done following the law.
All the necessary details regarding protest must be included in the petition which one submits to police along with all the required documents.
Many states have enacted state laws giving powers to police to curb such assemblies. In Himmat Lal K Shah v. Commissioner of Police Ahmedabad, the court held that police cannot curb your fundamental right to protest unless there is a proper reason.
It can be seen that protesting peacefully is a basic right and the lifeline of democracy and in its absence, democratic system cannot function properly as protests are the indicator of a free, democratic society in which voice of the people heard by those in power and take decisions accordingly.
Though the involvement of reasonable restrictions on conducting protest is also a very important and essential part to prevent its misuse so it is the duty of the state to make the exercise of this right effectively regulated and also not providing its excessive use in the hands of people. Thus, the work of the state is to balance both sides and bring stability in society.
The government must welcome the reasonable demands and constructive criticism of the people, and in any case, the right to dissent must not be quashed as the Protests is the way by which public as a watchdog of the Government activities can point out the working of government or policies which they don’t like or can ask for those regulations needed by them.
On the other hand, it is also a duty of a responsible citizen of the country to use any right whenever necessary and not oppose government actions and policies every time baselessly which affects the functioning of the whole country and prevails instability in society.
So, right to protest is an essential component in a democratic country and it should be used appropriately when required and the government also must help the citizens to use their fundamental rights instead of curbing this fundamental right.
Author: RISHABH MANCHANDA,
Delhi Metropolitan Education affiliated to GGSIPU/ 2nd Year/ Law Student