This article is written by Shivangi Kumari, from National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi.
Citizens are an integral part of the country whose rights and freedoms must be protected by law, because a country can function properly when the citizen of the country is not disturbed and far from the arbitrariness of its government. Since the rules and regulations, the legal framework, everything is done for the well-being of citizens and for a civilized society to be made so that the citizen can live, therefore, the Constitution of India grants different rights to the citizens of India, which are called fundamental rights to protect the interests of citizens. Thus, if citizens have established that any government action, policy or legislation is not appropriate or arbitrary, they have the right to oppose, criticize and express their views to the government, which can be expressed through peaceful protests.
Looking back on Indian history, freedom fighters also use peaceful protests as a tool for India’s struggle for freedom. The nation’s father, Mahatma Gandhi, also believed in peaceful protest, following the principles of Ahimsa, executing several Dhana, protesting rallies and movements against colonial policies and laws to guarantee citizens’ civil rights and ultimately India’s independence from the British.
So, after analyzing history, it can be said that there is no better way to challenge any government policy and laws, protesting peacefully is one of the best ways to express opinions of people and speak out against the government when necessary.Too many things are needed to organize a protest rally such as proper planning, money, time and much more, but among them, one of the most important things to emphasize by protesters is to hold it in accordance with the laws, since the very essence of the protest is lost if any illegal material attached to it.
In modern India, many protest rallies can witness various issues prevailing according to the needs of the times, because in the democratic political system people have the right to express their opinions and ask the government to climb, since the laws are created for the people and in a situation where the ideology of public and government clashes or the desire of some regulation. , the public has the right to express their wishes or to communicate through peaceful protest so that their voice reaches the government.
What is a protest
A protest is a way of expressing disapproval or objection to any action, statement or policy of a government or an organization that wants to accuse a group of people against themselves. Most of the time, the protest is about political issues that demonstrators collectively organize to make their views and demands heard by the government and also to influence other citizens to support them.
The purpose behind organizing a protest is to publicly interrogate the government about an action or policy and to have them systematically give the same answer. The protest also helps the government to identify their loopholes in their actions leading to the improvement of their works.In a democratic system, such a peaceful protest is the basic characteristics that can be criticised by the population by giving people the right to raise their voices and express their feelings on any issue of social or national interest.
Right to protest: a fundamental right
In India, fundamental rights are considered an essential part of the basic structure of the constitution, which in any case cannot be violated. These fundamental rights protect citizens’ rights and provide remedies in the event of a breach.
Although all rights are very important and play different roles, but among them, it is an important right that guarantees different freedoms for citizens Article 19 of the Constitution. It is only Article 19 that also offers the right to protest. Although the word protest is not explicitly mentioned in the fundamental rights of the Indian Constitution, it is implicitly derived from the in-depth reading of Article 19. The right to a peaceful assembly without arms is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(b) of the Constitution.
The right to protest is protected under Article 19(1)(a), Article 19(1)(b) and Article 19(1)(c), which gives citizens the right to freedom of expression, the right to meet peacefully without weapons and the right to form associations or trade unions. These three articles constitute the right of protest on the basis that a protester can exercise his right to hold a protest against any issue of national or social interest.
- The right to freedom of expression and expression means that each person has the right to freely express his or her opinions through a means such as gesture or mouth, etc.
- The right to peaceful assembly without weapons, which is to hold public meetings or to close a procession.
- The right to create associations or trade unions meant the right to form self-regulatory clubs, professional associations or companies in the field of common interest.
In Re: Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union Of India & Bears, the SC held that, ‘Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest that cannot be removed from arbitrary executive or legislative action.’
In Maneka Gandhi v. The Union of India, Justice Bhagwati stated that, ‘if democracy means the govt. of the people, on the part of the people, it’s obvious that every citizen must have the right to participate in the democratic process & allow him to intelligently exercise his rights to make a choice, a free & general discussion of public issues is absolutely essential.’
These Supreme Court conclusions reaffirm constitutional guarantees that citizens have the right to protest whenever the need arises. These protests help strengthen Indian democracy and allow space for peaceful adversity, which not only protects the right of citizens, but also helps fix a loophole. According to the court’s observations, the right to protest is an essential element of free democracy in order to protect the interest of citizens.
Why is the right to protest essential
The government brings many policies in the interest of citizens and for the growth and improvement of the country, which is regularly monitored by citizens and expresses their opinions in the same way, so if there is a mistake or a vacuum that can be solved by such peaceful demonstrations to express opinions. As a result, citizens act as guardians and monitor all government activities. Here, protest plays an important role in correcting errors in actions or policies.
The background of the Indian constitution is formed by the anti-colonial struggle, in which the seeds of the political sphere and the democratic constitution were sown.The Indian people fought hard and long to publicly express their views on colonial policies and laws, to dissent them, to shape minds and to shape public opinion against them, to speak and to oppose the government, to challenge it.
People not only signed petitions, but also organized dharnas, held large public meetings, peaceful protests and demonstrations, and even, for example, in Gandhi’s satyagraha, launched civil disobedience. The protests also offer points of inclusion and participation of voices that are not part of the mainstream, as seen in the protests to create Andhra or the Chipko movement.
Historically, several demonstrations have led to many changes to the constitution. For example, Potti Sreeramulu starves himself for the creation of a new Telugu-talking state of Andra and the Chipko movement to prevent what the UP government of the day could do to negotiate commercial loggers, several examples that led to many reforms. Thus, protests can take the form of stronger public methods against the government.
The government must respect and, in fact, encourage the exercise of these rights. It is the state’s obligation to assist in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression as understood in its overall sense and not to interfere with the exercise of that right by exercising its executive or legislative powers or by adopting orders or taking steps to limit that right in the name of reasonable restrictions. Thus, the right to protest is an essential element of democracy to bring about reforms and lead to the development of the country.
Reasonable restrictions over these fundamental rights
It should be remembered that all protests are legal only if they are non-violent and are carried out with appropriate permissions. ‘The basic obligations enshrined in the constitution require respect for the rule of law and not to destroy public property’.
These fundamental rights are not absolute and come with reasonable restrictions that impose on them, as if people were given complete freedom without having control that could affect society as a whole. That right is therefore subject to reasonable restrictions under clause 2 to 6 of the Indian Constitution, which includes a restriction which State law has imposed in the name of maintaining public policy.
The following are those reasonable restrictions-
- If the security of the State is in danger;
2. If the friendly relations we share with a neighbouring country are threatened;
3. In case of violation of public order;
4. If there is contempt of court;
- If India’s sovereignty and integrity are threatened.
In the case of the Railways Board V.Niranjan Singh, a limitation was observed. The restriction indicates the right to protest/assembly does not apply to the right to someone else’s property. All reasonable restrictions are imposed on the interests of India’s sovereignty and integrity, state security, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order and cannot be arbitrary in nature. So citizens must remember and perform their duties while exercising their rights.
The permits that will be required to hold a protest rally vary from state to state, with states empowered to make laws related to maintaining public order. Usually a person only needs a police permit and a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the police. Police have the power not to grant permission if they believe the rally is against public order. This can only be done by law. All necessary details of the protest must be included in the petition that someone submits to the police along with all necessary documents.
Many states have introduced state laws empowering police to restrict such meetings. In Himmat Lal K Shah vs. Commissioner of police Ahmedabad the court held that the police can’t restrict their fundamental right to protest unless there is a proper reason.
It can be seen that peaceful protest is a fundamental right and the lifeline of democracy, and in its absence, the democratic system cannot function properly, as protests are an indicator of a free, democratic society in which the voice of people who are heard from power and make decisions accordingly. The right of citizens to protest and gather peacefully without weapons is a fundamental aspect of India’s democracy. While it is also the government’s duty to protect civilians from violent protests, some basic principles must be taken into account.
Although the participation of reasonable restrictions on the conduct of a protest is also a very important and essential part of preventing its abuse, so it is the responsibility of the State to regulate the effective exercise of that right and also not to ensure that it is used excessively in the hands of the people. Thus, the job of the state is to balance both sides and bring stability to society. The government must welcome reasonable demands and constructive criticism of people, and in any case, the right to non-submission should not be suppressed, as protests are the way in which society as the guardian of government activities can point to the work of government or policies they do not like or can demand those rules necessary for them.
On the other hand, it is also the responsibility of the responsible citizen of the country to use every right where necessary and not to oppose government actions and policies every time unconditionally, which unconditionally affects the functioning of the whole country and predominates instability in society.
So the right to protest is an essential element in a democratic country and it should be used appropriately when required, and the government should also help citizens to use their fundamental rights, rather than limiting this fundamental right.
LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join: