Right to Peaceful Protests
Recently, the passage of CAA-NRC created a huge turmoil in the country and led to protests across India. Some of these protests took a violent turn while some of them remained peaceful. One of the peaceful protests that took place in the country against CAA-NRC is the Shaheen Bagh protest which started on 14th December 2019 and came to a standstill on 24th March 2020 owing to coronavirus outbreak. Following the steps of Shaheen Bagh protest, there were several other protests organized in different parts of the country which were as peaceful as the former. Such protests are classic examples of peaceful protests, so now let’s take a look at what are the laws for the same in India.
In Ramlila Maidan Incident, In Re the Supreme Court held “Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest which cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action.” In Maneka Gandhi v. UOI, the court held that “democracy means Government of the people, by the people, it is obvious that every citizen must be entitled to participate in the democratic process and in order to enable him to intelligently exercise his rights of making a choice, free & general discussion of public matters is absolutely essential.”
The Right to peaceful protest is protected by the Indian Constitution through Article 19(1)(a) which assures the freedom of speech and expression and Article 19(1)(b) which guarantees citizens the right to assemble peaceably and without arms. However, these rights are not absolute in nature. They come with reasonable restrictions as enshrined in Article 19(3) of the Constitution such as when the security of the state is in jeopardy; a friendly relationship we share with a neighboring country is at stake; public order is disturbed; contempt of court; & sovereignty and integrity of India is threatened.
The Right to peaceful protest is an essential element of democracy because whenever we think of a democratic society, the first thing that comes to our mind is ‘a representative elected by the people’. But if the ‘representative’ is unwatchful to the aspirations of the people and doesn’t pay regard to their needs then it may lead to a situation that may jeopardize the interests of the people and, ultimately, defeat the very purpose of democracy. In such a case, it becomes very important to have a mechanism wherein pressure against the government can be built by effective public mode, and it can be used by even those people who are not in the mainstream or can’t have access to a formal meeting.
Public protests are the hallmark of a free and democratic society, and its logic rests on the fact that the concerns and voice of people be heard and acknowledged by those, with whom the power and authority rest so that the decisions can be made bearing in mind the due concerns of the people. However, the people shouldn’t misuse this right to create hindrance in the governance and act responsibly as Voltaire said: “with great power comes great responsibility”.
 (2012) 5 SCC 1
 (1978)1 SCC 248.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rishita Gupta is currently a 1st-year student of Law at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow.
Editor: Jayant Upadhyay
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