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Right to Protest – Questioning the Unquestionable

Protest

Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the Earth.

William Faulkner

Our Constitution provides the right to protest by way of Article 19(1)(a) which gives freedom of speech and expressions,19(1)(b) which gives freedom to assemble peacefully without arms but this freedom are not absolute and Article 19(2) gives restrictions on the exercise of this freedom.

On the seventh of January 2021, this right to protest and show dissent crossed a fence in the oldest democracy of the United States of America when Trump supporters surrounded the Capitol and opposed the transfer of power to Joe Biden who was elected democratically. The Trump supporters and he himself have a strong belief that the election results are not correct.

All democracies have an elected government that works for a fixed period of time and this ensures check and balance between the powers and duties of the elected. After the end of the term, fresh elections are held, and these elections decide the new leader. These results are based on many things such as work done by the government in its last tenure, comparison between different party agendas, etc. After the election, the Party who wins majority support gets to run the government and this verdict of the majority is celebrated and accepted by the minority who don’t get the government of their choice, this is how democracy works, accepting and working on the will of the people.

Right to Protest – A comparison between the USA and India

The recent show of violence at the Capitol puts a blotch on America; these protests can’t be compared to other protests in the past such as the Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, etc. The United States of America has a history of protests going violent and that usually happens when you provide liberty and liberty to a greater extent than other democratic countries. The first amendment to the US constitution gives American citizens the Right to protest along with other rights such as freedom of the press, freedom of expression, etc. 

The best thing about America is that citizens of America stand for their rights and they are aware of their rights, this is possible because the citizens there are literate and the decision-makers too accept dissent. For instance, the protest after the killing of George Floyd was supported by the whole world. This protest was against the age-long problem of racism, and dissent surrounding social evils, which caught great momentum. These protests are supported by famous personalities and generally, these protests support Human Rights agendas. Even when these protests cross a limit, they don’t get negative attention.

Black Lives Matter Protest

India has also witnessed protests such as the protests after the Nirbhaya case which led to the execution of death sentences on the culprits. The Anti-CAA protests, the outcome of which was the Delhi riots. Furthermore, the protests on farm laws are going on for months with no end in sight and the Supreme Court put a stay on the three farm laws, encouraging farmers to engage with the government. The talks took place multiple times, with the problem remaining intact and protesters remaining determined on the borders, facing chilling weather.

India was under colonial rule and it got its independence through protest. So, we can’t phrase that protests aren’t necessary. Protests are important in a democracy, they are a way through which people in power get to know about their errors and get an insight as to what the people want.

Whenever protests happen in India, a majority of people adopt a view that the protestors have been brainwashed by people having a political agenda. The farm protesters were called Khalistani supporters, the Shaheen Bagh protesters referred to as brainwashed Muslims. India has seen silent marches for rape victims, for forests, for minority rights and these protests were meaningful in a sense that they did what protests are for, to show that we disagree from a point of view, that we can’t accept the present state of things, that we stand in solidarity with the victims of these crimes. 

In India, freedom of expression can’t go beyond friendly relations with foreign states, the security of the state, public order, decency, morality, contempt of court, incitement to an offense, sovereignty, and integrity of India. The assembly should be peaceful and unarmed and shouldn’t threaten the safety of people. Article 51A of the Constitution of India contains a duty to safeguard public property and to abjure violence.

Protest

In the case of Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, UOI, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that in a democracy people have the right to raise their voices and have a right to protest.

In America right to free speech is restricted by incitement, false statements of facts, obscenity, child pornography, fighting words, threatening the president, and restrictions based on special capacity by the government. The government curbs protest through the use of force, mass arrests, in India mass protests, are also curbed through S.144 CrPC. People like Sharjil Imam have been charged under UAPA and sedition for protests on CAA. Incidents as such prove that one of the most important democratic ethics is not being protected and the voices of people and their right to speech and expressions are being violated.

Conclusion

To conclude, this is generally done when there is no viable solution; the use of force also signifies that the government is unable to handle dissent. Dissent and democracy go hand in hand.

Speaking for the right is a must and advocating for rights is also a must as Leonardo Da Vinci has said, ‘Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence. The Supreme Court has said in the Anuradha Bhasin case that repeated orders under S.144 will lead to abuse of power and the Government should follow the principle of proportionality to adopt less restrictive measures and 144 can’t be used to prevent the legitimate expression of opinion.

On 11 January the Supreme Court said that it would not pass orders that citizens should not protest. The farmers are firm on their resolutions, they want the government to repeal the farm laws, the government is suggesting that they will make amendments. The Supreme Court has appointed a committee to resolve the deadlock. Bhupinder Singh Mann has recused himself from the committee citing he stands with farmers.

The farmers are saying they will be holding a parallel parade on Republic Day, if it happens then, I personally have a view that this will cross a line, the same line which has been crossed in America. The Delhi police are contending that this act will prove to be embarrassing for the nation.

Many people, shop owners, and commuters are facing problems due to this protest however this does not undermine the protest by the farmers. It’s tough to pick sides. The farmers should talk to the officials and officials should listen to the farmer’s perspective, they should try to reach amicable solutions. Till then, this protest remains a sign that our farmers are also strong and they have put up a strong resistance independently.


Editor’s Note
The author in this article compares the American democracy to its Indian Counterpart with respect to the Right to protest and explains how the laws are carried out in both of these countries. Furthermore, the author has substantiated his views about the differences in mentality of people residing in the said countries with the use of a few examples. The author concludes by citing an example from the current farmers’ protest and prays that neither the state nor the people abuse this right.


Submitted by Mehvish Khan and Anurag Singh Tomar.

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