SC on Farmer’s ‘Right to Protest’
Polity & Governance
2nd Nov, 2021
- The seeds of protest were sown deep during our independence struggle, making protest an important and indelible chapter in India’s history.
- Protests in India have a long and eminent history. Until 72 years ago, India was a colony ruled by Britishers.
- In the post-independence era, its people became free citizens because of a long series of protests done by our freedom fighters.
- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhiaka Mahatma Gandhi, taught the Indians citizens, the power of peaceful protest.
- So, be it the Swadeshi Movement of 1905or Satyagraha in 1930 these movements have shaped the history of the nation that was the peaceful protest against the colonial rule.
- Indians fought hard every battle to publicly express their views on colonial policies and to show dissent towards British colonization and to speak to and against the government.
Understanding the constitutional provisions of ‘Right to Protest’ in India
- The right to protest, to publicly question and force the government to answer, is a fundamental political right of the people that flows directly from a democratic reading of Article 19.
- The right to peaceful protest is bestowed to Indian citizens by our Constitution.
- It is part of the freedom of speech and expression, which is a fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a).
- Article 19(1) (a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression.
- Article 19 (1) (b) states about the right to assemble peaceably and without arms.
- Article 19 (2) imposes reasonable restrictions on the right to assemble peaceably and without arms and to freedom of speech and expression and none of these rights are absolute in nature.
- These reasonable restrictions are imposed in the interests of the sovereignty & integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
Absolute rights are legally enforceable as written in the constitution and cannot be infringed by any other law or court order.
Article 19 (1)(a) & 19(1)(b)
(But under) Article 19(2) & 19(3) [Reasonable Restriction]
- Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression
- Article 19(1) (b) assures citizens the right to assemble peaceably and without arms.
- This right is subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of public order-
- If the security of the state is in jeopardy
- If the friendly relationship we share with a neighbouring country is at stake
- If public order is disturbed
- If there is contempt of court
- If the sovereignty and integrity of India are threatened
What are the legal provisions?
The legal provisions and avenue available to police for handling agitations, protests, and unlawful assemblies are covered by-
- the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973
- the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860
- the Police Act, 1861
The ongoing farmers protest
- Over 40 farmer organizations are protesting against the passage of three laws –
- The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020
- The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020
- Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020
- The farmers have been camping at the borders surrounding Delhi-NCR for months after the agitation was launched in Punjab last year.
- Though the top court had, on January 2, 2021, stayed the three farm laws, but the protesting farmers had refused to accept anything short of a repeal of the laws and had continued to protest.
Important cases on right to protest:
- Shaheen Bagh protests case: In the Shaheen Bagh protests case, SC stated that the right to protest should not hamper the right to movement of the public.
- Re: Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union Of India & Bears: SC held that, ‘Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest that cannot be removed from arbitrary executive or legislative action.’
- Maneka Gandhi v. The Union of India: Justice Bhagwati stated that, ‘if democracy means the government 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.’
Why the right to protest is essential?
- Essential for all segments: Protests play an important part in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural life of all societies.
- Securing human rights: The right to protest formally involves the exercise of numerous fundamental human rights, and is essential for securing all human rights.
- Responsible citizenry: Protests encourage the development of an engaged and informed citizenry.
- Strengthening democracy: They strengthen representative democracy by enabling direct participation in public affairs.
- Transparency and effectiveness: They enable individuals and groups to express dissent and grievances, to share views and opinions, to expose flaws in governance and to publicly demand that the authorities and other powerful entities rectify problems and are accountable for their actions.