In a democratic society it is necessary that the voice of people reaches its citizens; Public protests are a hallmark of a democratic and free society. We have been witnessing a lot of public protests in India during recent times and even during british rule. Citizens are the backbone of the country and if they feel that any government action is arbitrary, they have the right to raise their voice and express their views through peaceful protests. The purpose of this article is to explore the fundamental rights provided under the Indian constitution like Freedom of speech and expression, Freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms and Freedom to form associations or unions. It will also provide an analysis and understanding of the right to protest in India.
Key words: Fundamental rights, Right to protest, Freedom of speech and expression, Freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms, Freedom to form associations or unions.
If we look at the history of our country, we will observe that the freedom fighters of our country used peaceful protest as a tool for independence from british rule. After the freedom struggle, the citizens were free from british rule due to the peaceful protests done by our freedom fighters. Some of the examples of protests before independence are the Swadeshi Movement of 1905 or Satyagraha in 1930; Indians fought very hard to show their dissent towards the britishers and their government. In recent times as well we can witness several protests being carried out (like the recent one on CAA). In a democratic country like India people have the right to express their criticism through peaceful protests and citizens are given right under the constitution.
Public will monitor the actions of the government and will protest if there is any injustice or misuse of power. At the time when an emergency was announced in the state and democracy of India was terrorized, In such a situation people protested against such misuse of power.
PERSPECTIVE UNDER INDIAN SCENARIO:
In India, fundamental rights are viewed as a basic piece of the fundamental structure of the constitution, which regardless can’t be violated. These fundamental rights provide rights and remedies to its citizens. Article 19 is the right to freedom which guarantees 6 fundamental rights to its citizens. These rights are not absolute. Clauses (2) to (6) recognise power of State to make laws imposing reasonable restrictions for reasons or on grounds set out in them. The differences in the contents of clauses (2) to (6) indicate that the rights in clause (1) do not stand on a common pedestal but have varying dimensions and underlying philosophies. Also, reasonable restrictions on any of the rights in Art 19(1) can be imposed only by law and not otherwise.
Although the word ‘protest’ is not mentioned anywhere in the constitution but it can be derived by interpreting Article 19 of the Constitution The right to protest is protected under Article 19(1)(a), Article 19(1)(b) and 19(1)(c) of the constitution.
Art 19 (1)(a): Freedom of Speech and Expression: It is called, bulwark of democratic government, first condition of liberty, mother of all liberty. It guarantees to all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression; It includes the right to express one’s views and opinions at any issue through any medium, eg., by words of mouth, writing, printing, picture, film, movie, etc. It includes the freedom of communication and the right to propagate or publish opinion. But State has been given the power to impose, by law, reasonable restrictions on the freedom under Art 19(1)(a) in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state, friendly relations with foreign state, public order, decency or morality or in relation to: a) contempt of court b) defamation c) incitement to an offence.
Art 19 (1)(b): Freedom of Assembly: It gives the right to citizens to assemble peaceably and without arms; It includes the right to hold meetings and to take out processions. Under Art 19(3), the State may impose reasonable restrictions on this right in the interests of a) sovereignty and integrity of India and b) public order. Therefore, our constitution gives the right to peaceful protest to its citizens by our.
Art 19 (1)(c): Freedom of Association: It gives the right to citizens to form associations and unions; Right to form cooperative societies was also added to it by the Constitution (97th Amendment) Act, 2011; it includes the right to continue with such association; also implies the negative right of not joining associations or unions.The Right to association is required to form associations for political purposes such as to peacefully form a group and challenge government decisions and to even aim, peacefully and legally, to displace the government, to not merely check abuse of power but to wrest power.
SUMMARY OF LEADING CASES WITH IMPORTANT ISSUES:
- In Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union of India & Ors. case (2012), the apex court stated that the fundamental right to peaceful protest and assembly guaranteed to citizens cannot be hindered by any action of the government.
- In Maneka Gandhi v. The Union of India, Justice Bhagwati stated that, ‘India is a democratic country which means government of the people, by the people; then it is very clear from the statement that the citizens have the right to participate in any state action and also the right to make correct choices and discuss the essential public issues.
These two cases indicate that the citizens are given the right to protest, expressly under the constitution.
All the protests carried out will only be legal when they are non violent and are carried out with appropriate instructions and permissions.; Article 51A says that Fundamental duties which are enshrined in the constitution require that rule of law is followed and public property is not destroyed . According to the observation of the court, the right to protest is an essential element of free democracy in order to protect the interest of citizens.
In the recent Shaheen Bagh protest which was against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the supreme court held that, “public spaces and places can’t be occupied indefinitely; The administration must keep such spaces free from obstructions; Protests should be at designated places; Dissent and democracy go hand in hand but protests must be carried out in designated area; while protesting no person or group of persons is allowed to block public places or roads. The right to peaceful protest is a constitutional right and it has to be respected but it does not include adopting means that are harmful to the society and the people”.
Right to Protest is a fundamental right with reasonable restrictions.
The Right to Protest is one of the most important principles on which democracy endures and flourishes. It is important to remember that all protests will be legal only if they are non violent and carried out with appropriate permissions. Fundamental duties which are provided to the citizens in the Constitution require that rule of law is followed and the public property is not destroyed.
Rights always come with responsibilities and duties. Citizens are given the fundamental right to protest and gather peacefully without arms under the Indian Constitution; but such protest should not be violent and should be in favour of the law. Government has the duty to protect the civilians from violent protests. It is the moral duty of the citizens to protest against the injustice in the society but it is subject to certain restrictions, when the protest takes a violent form, it defeats the very purpose of law, hence there has to be a peaceful protest.
 Ayush Verma, Right to protest : a fundamental right – iPleaders iPleaders (2020), https://blog.ipleaders.in/right-protest-fundamental-right.
 Right to Protest in India: Is it a Fundamental Right?, Finology.in (2020),
https://blog.finology.in/constitutional-developments/right-to-protest-India-fundamental-rights#:~:text=Article%2019 (1)(a,but%20subjected%20to%20reasonable%20restrictions.text=Thereby%2C%20right%20to%20peaceful%20prot protest,Indian%20citizens%20by%20our%20Constitution.
 India Const. art. 19.
 Right To Protest In A Free Society, Drishti IAS (2020),
https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-editorials/right-to-protest-in-a-free-society (last visited Dec 3, 2020).
 Re:Ramila maidan incident v. Home secretary, Union of India and ors.,(2012) 5 SCC 1 (India).
 Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, (1978) AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
 India, Public places cannot be occupied indefinitely: SC on Shaheen Bagh stir Hindustan Times (2020),https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/public-places-cannot-be-occupied-indefinity-for-protests-supre me-court/story-wzSGQp40K48EMa2m3kxZzJ.html