Right to protest

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Top court in its last year order stated that farmers have a constitutional right to continue with their protest.

The Supreme Court therein order upheld the farmer’s right to continue their protest during a peaceful manner as a constitutional right subject to public order. No restrictions are going to be placed within the exercise of such rights as long as it is non-violent and doesn't lead to damage to the life and properties of other citizens.

Right to protests in India started from the power of peaceful protest and was taught to the country by the daddy of the Indian nation, Gandhi, against the mighty geographical region.

People not only signed writ petitions but staged dharnas, held large public meetings, peaceful protests and demonstrations and even, for example in Gandhi’s satyagraha, launched direct action movements.

After Independence, many peaceful protests happened, but one amongst the most important were protests during an emergency within the 1970s when democracy in India was threatened because of authoritarianism of the govt.

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Movements like Chipko movement (1973) within the upper Alaknanda valley occurred for forest conservation.

During the Anna Hazare movement against corruption, thousands participated within the peaceful protests.

Constitutional provisions ensuring the right to protest are the proper to protest, to publicly challenge and force the govt. to answer, could be a fundamental political right of the people who flows directly from a democratic reading of varied provisions of Article 19.

Public protests are the hallmark of a free, democratic society, whose logic demands that the voice of the people be heard by those in power and decisions be reached after proper discussion and consultation. For this, the proper freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are necessary.

Right to Protest is protected under Article 19(1) (a), Article 19(1) (b) and Article 19(1) (c) of the Indian Constitution.

Reasonable restrictions: However, like other fundamental rights, right to protest is additionally not absolute and also subject to reasonable restrictions mentioned under Article 19(2) and 19(3) on the subsequent grounds;

In the interests of the sovereignty & integrity of India, the protection of the State, Friendly relations with foreign States, Violation of Public order, Decency or morality or in relevancy Contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence The grounds of restrictions supported Violation of public order is reasonable only there's evidence that protesters will incite lawless or disorderly acts which such acts are likely to occur.

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Section 144 and right to protest in India

Time and again, to suppress the voice of citizens or for legitimate reasons like controlling the violent protest, the govt has kept on using various tools available against protests and section 144 of Cr.PC has been the most important such tool. Section 144 authorises executive magistrates to pass “prohibitory orders” that restrict people from assembling at particular places to forestall breaches of public order or the triggering of violence. Although the law has been enacted to implement the reasonable restrictions, Section 144 is framed in such broad and vague terms that it may be imposed by the manager anywhere to forestall the expression of dissent through public demonstrations and protests.

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Judgments on Right to Protest:

Apex court in the case of  2012 Ramlila Maidan, the bench held that the “perception of threat to public peace and tranquillity should be real” for Section 144 to be used. The trigger can't be “imaginary or a mere likely possibility”.

In Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan v Union of India, the Supreme Court held although recognized the proper to protest and asked the govt and police to follow border guidelines but also held that the order to impose section 144 wasn't unconstitutional.

Supreme Court Judgements on Right to Protest:

Ramlila Maidan Incident vs Secretary of State for the Home Department, Union of India (2012): The Supreme Court had stated that citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest which can't be withdrawn by an arbitrary executive or legislative action.

Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) vs Union of India(2018): during this case, SC upheld the basic right to assembly and peaceful protest but ordered it to be regulated in such the simplest way that they are doing not cause inconvenience to residents from Jantar Mantar road or the offices located there.

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Shaheen Bagh Judgement:

The court upheld the right to peaceful protest against law but made it clear that public ways and public spaces can't be occupied indefinitely.

The right to protest at a general public place must be in equilibrium with the right of the final people to maneuver freely without hindrance.

Fundamental rights don't board isolation. The properness of the protester must be balanced with the correct of the commuter and must co-exist in mutual respect.

If we look at the importance of the proper to protest, Firstly, Right to protest is an important element of democracy to bring on reforms and result in the event of the country. Second, Protesting against injustice isn't only a constitutional right of the citizens but also their moral duty. Third, Active exercise of Right to protest ensures people’s role as watchdogs that constantly monitors government’s acts and ensures fairness in them. Fourth, it's the most important weapon of the people when the govt. a democratic country becomes unresponsive and refuses to concentrate on them.

Peaceful protest could be a fundamental right and therefore the lifeline of democracy, without which there would be very less accountability left with the ruling government and each citizen must look ahead to the election to vent out their anger against it. But reasonable restrictions are important so peaceful protests don't turn violent and cause loss of lives and property.

However, it shouldn't be made an excuse to suppress every style of protest because it is the prime duty of each government to safeguard the ideals of the constitution.

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