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This article is written by Abhinav Rana, from University School of Law and Legal Studies, GGSIPU Dwarka. This article deals with the instances in which the dissent opinion has been suppressed and how it is a threat to democracy. 

Introduction

Criticisms of powerful individuals or systems are sometimes suppressed: they are attacked using a variety of methods, such as censorship, reprimand, or dismissal. Suppression can cause huge losses to society, for example when dangerous activities continue due to the suppression or prohibition of criticism. There are a number of ways to respond to pressure, including doing nothing, using informal methods, using formal methods, promoting legal protection, getting support from trade unions and other organizations, and organizing promotional campaigns. It is important to act against repression, protect opponents and help create a society in which the opposition is welcome. Although these are common methods used to attack the critics, the reasons given are different. Almost all those who act against dissidents in any case say that the reason was poor performance by the opponent or something else that was the fault of the opponent, especially an attack on the personality of the opponent. How can he be sure that suppression is involved? There’s no way to be absolutely sure. However, the following factors are good indicators. No action is taken against similar ones to the attacked person who did anything that threatened the interest group. This is a double standard test. 

The Constitutional framework of every democratic country provides for freedom of speech and expression, as is the case in India. It is in the exercise of this right that politicians, social activists, or even the general public engage in several debates through various modes of communications. Dissent is very fundamental to any democracy as it attempts to undermine the unjust political structure so that a better system can be brought in its place. It is considered as the ‘safety valve’ of democracy and therefore any attempt to use state machinery for suppressing the right of free speech violates the rule of law and distracts from the vision of pluralist society as laid by the Constitution.

The recent protest for the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NCR) against the BJP led NDA government has been vehemently criticized as ‘anti national’ by certain sects of the society which has again given rise to this question. In such cases, the role of the judiciary is further increased to be a protector of the freedom of people. Remember, too, that people who are attacked can quite rightly be psychologically affected. Dealing with pressure is difficult for most opponents. It also often becomes one’s primary concern and drives others away. Opponents should not be held responsible for the difficulties brought to them by others. He is a few dissident saints, but most are normal people with usual human weaknesses. Some opponents have very bad personal traits.

However, in any case, the opposition must be protected. The focus should be on opposing repression and ensuring freedom of expression, not on the psychology of those being attacked. There is some regularity in suppression. For example, there are many documented cases of suppression of political radicals (leftist and more rarely right-wing), feminists, those who expose corruption, and critics of nuclear power, forestry, fluorination or pesticides. In some areas – such as car safety – there are few cases of repression because there are few public critics. Actions that can be called repression are mostly carried out by people in positions of power in organizations or associations. This means business managers, government officials, and leaders in professions (law, medicine). Usually, attacks on a person come from over them:

For example, the attacks on the vocal academics come from university administrations rather than outside. It is useful to assume that those responsible for the repression are sincere. They truly believe that the opponent is incompetent, unauthorized or whatever, and that their own actions are quite justified. 

History 

Dissent should not be considered as one against the country; however it may be against the people holding power on the day. There is a long history of dissent both in India as well as outside it. Kautilya, who founded the Mauryan Empire, dissented against the Nandas of Magadh for their complacency towards Alexander. Shivaji, the great ruler of Marathas dissented against the kingdoms of Deccan and the Mughals. The first war of independence of 1857 was lead by the dissent of soldiers of Barrackpore and Meerut. Dissent from a long list of leaders including the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has paved the way of Indian Independence. Jayaprakash Narayan’s revolt against the Indira Gandhi led government led to the imposition of Emergency and a consensus against dictatorship.

If we look towards revolutionary dissent by the judiciary, the first traces were seen in the case of Abrams v. United States in 1919 wherein Oliver Wendell Homes Jr. dissented from the majority judgment. This dissent was sensational which is often acclaimed as a monument of liberty.

Laws       

The Indian governments after getting to power always reassure people for the protection of their right of speech and expression yet in practice they pass laws that provide for harsh actions even against peaceful expression. These laws are often vaguely worded so that they will be available for misuse against any critic for political purposes.

Sedition Law

Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code which provides for a maximum of life imprisonment is a colonial-era law which is unsustainable in the modern scenario as held by the Supreme Court in its 1962 judgment in which it was said that any speech will amount to sedition only when it incites or tends to incite disorder or violence, yet it has been widely misused which is evident from National Crime Records Bureau’s data which provides that out of 179 sedition cases between the year 2014 to 2016, only 2 have ended in conviction and more than 70% does not even have a charge sheet filed.

Criminal Defamation

Defamation laws are the easiest to exploit by the people in power. It provides for strict penal consequences which are not always proportionate to the reputational harm. A very famous instance of its misuse was seen in Tamilnadu in the early years of the previous decade in which nearly 200 cases were registered for defamation of the government. The Supreme Court in its 2015 judgment criticized this overuse saying that these criticisms were against the policies of the government and not against individuals and defamation laws are not meant for it.         

Laws that regulate the internet

With the introduction of the internet it became another platform for criticizing the wrongs of the people in power. This made the authorities nervous about the widespread use of the internet against them and therefore to regulate the proceedings on the internet the Information Technology Act was enacted in 2000. Section 66A of the Act criminalizes a big range of speech, this had also been intentionally used to censor content against the critics.

Counter-Terrorism Laws

Those who are protesting against the government ideologies have often been threatened to be punished under counter-terrorism laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or the National Security Act. This is socially very disregarding as these people will be treated as ‘anti-national’ and the social stigma attached to it does not even wait for the judiciary to decide the matter, that’s why it is an absolute censor on freedom of speech and expression.

These laws are challenging the very fundamentals of a democratic system, further; the procedure of the Indian criminal justice system is another nail in the coffin of this freedom. The lengthy procedure followed in every case as well as the inability to comply with the direction of the higher court has sometimes proved to be critical in the exercise of this independence. Suppression can cause enormous costs for society. Suppression is undesirable for a more fundamental reason. Freedom of expression is the center of a free society. It is necessary for all perspectives to be presented and taken into account. The opposition should not be encouraged, but encouraged. Freedom of expression should be provided for everyone, including employees. Society suffers when government or industry employees are blocked from speaking out because they fear for their jobs. Strong organizations claiming to serve the public interest, the ability to tolerate critics. They even need criticism to make them more effective.

Judgments

There had been many significant judgments on the topic however if we compare them, two of them stands out:

ADM Jabalpur V. Shivkant Shukla

This is popularly known as the Habeas Corpus case. The judgment had been criticized by many modern jurists. However, the dissenting view of Justice H.R. Khanna which deprived him of the office of the Chief Justice of India is even now considered as the symbol of natural rights. His lordship said that the right to life is not bestowed by the Constitution but is inherent in humans. He was always an admirer of Charles Evans Hughes dictum “A dissent in a court of last resort is an appeal to the brooding spirit of law, to the intelligence of a future day”. This decision also earned him a presence in the Court no. 2 of the Supreme Court, where he last presided.

Shreya Singhal v. Union of India

The Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act saying that it is an arbitrary and excessive exercise of power which is not in compliance of the principle of reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression as laid in Article 19 of the Constitution of India, 1950. The decision freed online speeches from the threat of arrests and prosecution.

Responses

Do nothing

This is rarely successful at stopping suppression. Usually the attacks continue. Also, no support is produced for the opponent. If the critics decide to cross the line and “humble”, then they can be put back on the agenda after a while – usually years. This consent means that future critics will likely face the same challenges.

Use informal methods

This includes talking to the attackers, trying to clear misunderstandings, explaining the person’s actions, etc. Contains. This can be successful when suppression is a mistake or, as sometimes, those involved are willing to change. However, in most cases, attackers do not want to reconsider their actions.

Use official channels

This includes making formal appeals against decisions, using internal complaints procedures, bringing cases to the Ombudsman or the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission or court proceedings. This sometimes helps, but usually only in the most obvious or cut-and-dry situations. The disadvantages of official channels are that organizations have a huge advantage in resources, long delays, and only narrow aspects of the case are addressed.

Encourage and use whistleblowing legislation

Some Australian governments have passed or are considering legislation to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. This sounds like a great idea, but it has serious limitations. Legislation can only cover certain types of persons, typically public officials and certain types of opposition. However, it is difficult to legislate against many types of problems, such as subtle harassment campaigns and blocking. appointments. Legislation has a strong symbolic value. On the one hand, it can legitimize opposition. On the other hand, the appearance that something about suppression is being done when in fact very little has changed.

Conclusion    

Dissent is a necessary element of democratic setup as it keeps the people in power tied to their duties and not to exercise the power arbitrarily. It reminds a democratically elected government that though they are giving tools for development and social coordination, they are not entitled to claim a monopoly over the constitutional spirit and therefore it adds extra responsibility on the judiciary to protect any such expansion of power. It is very just to close this article by a statement of one of the most vigilant judicial minds, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud who says “The Blanket labeling of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the heart of our commitment to protect constitutional values and the promotion of deliberative democracies”. 


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