Author: Priya & Chetana, III year of B.Com., LL.B. from University Institute of Legal Studies, Punjab University, Chandigarh
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fall to protest.”
The above lines truly highlight the importance of the ‘Right to Protest’ and its inheritable necessity in every democratic system. Looking between the lines and finding the evolution of the Right to protests we see that a protest arises when a group of the community decides to protest, the reason lies in their disapproval against any lack of policy of the government. The evolution of this fundamental right took place various years ago and with time, passing through various hits this has been now carved out as a fundamental right.
EVOLUTION OF RIGHT TO PROTEST
Protest in India is not a new chapter. It has a long history. Evolving from the roots Swadeshi Movement of 1905 and Satyagraha in 1930 to Shaheen Bagh and now to Farm bills protest in the modern era, it shaped the history of our country, and due to these historical protests, all the citizens of our country are living a free and independent life. There may be various opinions of different people of protests being bringing a disturbance in the democratic setup but protesting is an element which is not departed from democracy but is essential to it. But it is also very essential and important to know that every person must be aware of his fundamental duties and responsibilities while protesting peacefully in a democratic country.
Looking into the working of Protests we observe that there are two ways in which a protest works: first, it helps a particular group of people to showcase their disagreement against any government, and second, by taking out peaceful action the government can rethink whether their action is taken.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS AND INTERNATIONAL LAWS
In context to the Indian Constitution, the basis and roots of ‘Right to Protest’ has been enshrined as a fundamental right under Article 19 subjected to the restrictions mentioned under Article 19(1) (a) of the constitution provides for the right to free speech and expression and complementing it Article 19(1)(b) the right to Assemble peacefully without Arms form the fundamental Right to Protest and a combined reading of the both these Articles elucidates that every person has right to protest and to express their views publicly as these rights are bestowed to every citizen by the government.
Article 19(2) imposes reasonable restrictions on this right which are that people should assemble without arms and it is because of the reason that these rights are not an absolute one in their nature. If read with Article 51A, then it becomes the duty of every person to safeguard public property and to protect and to avoid violence during their protests.
The importance of the Right to Protest has been brought to light by various judgments of the Supreme Court. In the case of Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Sect. UOI & others,( Writ Petition (Cri.) 122 of 2011) the honourable Supreme Court had ruled that Citizens have fundamental rights to protest and this can’t be taken away by any arbitrary action of the State. In another important judgment of Anita Thakur & others v. the State of J.K, (Writ Petition (Cri.) 118of 2007) the Supreme Court clarified that the right to protest though not an absolute right is the most significant feature of democracy. Moreover, the Supreme Court in its landmark judgment in the case of Amit Sahni v. Comm. of Police, (Civil Appeal 3282/2020) held that the right to protest is a fundamental right but it should be safely exercised in all cases.
In addition to the Indian Constitution, the International Law considers that right to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expressions constitute a fundamental Right to Protest in various treaties. Not only this, to clearly define this right United Nation and Regional Mechanism African Commission, have developed various International standards and includes ten general principles which apply before and after the protest. Also, provides that sometimes, the exercise of the right to protest may affect the rights of other people who are away from the protest and that’s why certain restriction in a best-limited way is applied and should be lawful, necessary, proportionate and without discrimination and accompanied by the standards. The State cannot in general use the force but it should be used only in ulterior necessity and should be strictly unavoidable.
PRESENT SCENARIO IN INDIA
In recent days also in our country, a huge protest is going against the farm bills and the Honorable Supreme Court has also passed the guidelines that Farmers have the right to protest as they are protesting peacefully and without arms, only then the demands could come into notice and fulfil.
And thus, it is necessary that the protests carried out should be peaceful, without arms, and should not cause any kind of public inconvenience and violence. As “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
The right to protest forms a hidden core of democracy and also a fundamental part of a citizen’s right. While the government also must protect citizens from violent protests, some basic morality must be taken into account. On the other hand, it is also the accountability of the responsible citizen of the country to exercise every right where needed and not to oppose government actions and policies every time unconditionally, which completely affects the functioning of the whole country and predominates instability in society. So the right to protest is an essential building block in a democratic country and it should be used aptly when required, and the government should also help citizens to use their fundamental rights, rather than off-putting this fundamental right.