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Introduction

Peaceful protest is a fundamental right in many countries around the world, and is often used as a means for individuals and groups to express their grievances and demands for change.  

The right to peaceful protest has a long history in India, dating back to the country's struggle for independence from British colonial rule. The Indian independence movement, which lasted from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, was characterized by a series of peaceful protests, civil disobedience campaigns, and non-violent resistance led by leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi. These protests played a crucial role in bringing about the end of British rule in India.

After India gained independence in 1947, the right to peaceful protest was enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, expression, and assembly under Article 19, and the right to peaceful protest is an essential aspect of these rights. However, the right to peaceful protest has faced challenges and restrictions since independence. During the Emergency period of 1975-77, the Indian government imposed strict restrictions on the freedom of speech and assembly, and thousands of political activists and opposition leaders were arrested and detained without trial.

In the decades that followed, there have been instances of peaceful protesters being met with repression and violence, particularly when they were led by marginalized communities such as Dalits, Adivasis, and minority groups. This has led to criticism that the right to peaceful protest is not equally upheld for all citizens. Despite these challenges, the right to peaceful protest has been upheld and reinforced through a number of landmark judgments by the Indian judiciary, which have helped to establish and uphold the right to peaceful protest in India

In India, the right to peaceful protest is protected under the Indian Constitution, specifically under Article 19, which guarantees the freedom of speech, expression, and assembly. However, this right is not absolute and is subject to certain restrictions. For example, protests may be restricted if they incite violence or disrupt public order. Additionally, the Indian government has the power to impose certain conditions on protests, such as requiring permits or limiting the number of participants. In recent years, there have been concerns about the Indian government's handling of peaceful protests. Critics argue that the government has used heavy-handed tactics to suppress dissent and has imposed restrictions on the freedom of speech and assembly. There have also been instances of police brutality and the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters.

Overall, the right to peaceful protest in India is protected by the constitution, but it is subject to certain restrictions and there have been concerns about the government's handling of peaceful protests in recent years.

There have been many peaceful protests in Indian history. Some notable examples include:

  • The Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922) led by Mahatma Gandhi, which was a non-violent protest against British colonial rule in India.
  • The Salt Satyagraha (1930) also led by Mahatma Gandhi, which was a non-violent protest against the British salt tax in India.
  • The Quit India Movement (1942) led by Mahatma Gandhi, which was a non-violent protest demanding that the British leave India immediately.
  • The Chipko Movement (1973-1980) led by Sundarlal Bahuguna, which was a peaceful protest against the cutting of trees in the Himalayas.
  • The Anti-Arrack Movement (1990s) led by women in Andhra Pradesh, which was a peaceful protest against the sale of alcohol in the state.
  • The Narmada Bachao Andolan (1980s-2000s) led by Medha Patkar, which was a peaceful protest against the construction of large dams on the Narmada River.
  • The Anti-CAA Protests (2019-2020) led by students and civil society groups, which was a peaceful protest against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act.
  • The farmer's protest (2020-2021) led by farmers, which is a peaceful protest against the new farm laws.

 Importance of Right to peacefully protest in India

The right to peaceful protest is an essential aspect of democratic societies as it allows individuals and groups to express their opinions and grievances, and to hold those in power accountable. In India, where democracy is one of the cornerstones of the country, the right to peaceful protest is especially important as it allows citizens to voice their concerns and demand changes.

Peaceful protest is a peaceful means of expressing dissent which allows people to raise their voice against the issues they are facing and demand their rights. It is an important way for marginalized communities, such as Dalits, Adivasis, and minority groups, to assert their rights and bring attention to their issues.

Additionally, peaceful protest can also play an important role in promoting social change and progress. It has been a powerful tool in the past for movements such as the Indian independence movement, the civil rights movement and campaigns for the rights of women and marginalized communities.

In conclusion, the right to peaceful protest is an essential aspect of democracy and plays a crucial role in promoting social change, holding those in power accountable and allowing citizens to voice their concerns and demand their rights.

Criticism of Right to peacefully protest in India

While the right to peaceful protest is protected under the Indian Constitution, there have been criticisms of the way it is implemented and upheld in practice. Some of the main criticisms include:

  • Suppression of dissent: Critics argue that the government has used heavy-handed tactics to suppress dissent and has imposed restrictions on the freedom of speech and assembly. There have been instances of police brutality and the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters.
  • Restrictions on freedom of speech: The Indian government has the power to impose certain conditions on protests, such as requiring permits or limiting the number of participants. This has been criticized as it can be used to restrict the freedom of speech and assembly of individuals and groups.
  • Lack of accountability: There have been instances of police officers who have used excessive force against peaceful protesters not being held accountable for their actions. This has raised concerns about the lack of accountability and transparency in the handling of peaceful protests.
  • Discrimination: Peaceful protests are often met with repression, especially when they are led by marginalized communities such as Dalits, Adivasis, and minority groups. This has led to criticism that the right to peaceful protest is not equally upheld for all citizens.
  • Political manipulation: There are concerns that the right to peaceful protest is being used for political manipulation by the ruling party or the opposition, by stoking emotions, spreading misinformation and instigating violence.

Landmark judgement on Right to peacefully protest in India

There have been several landmark judgments in India related to the right to peaceful protest. Some of the notable ones include:

  • Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar (1962): The Supreme Court upheld the right to freedom of speech and expression, including the right to peaceful protest, but also established that it can be restricted in the interest of public order.
  • Maneka Gandhi v Union of India (1978): The Supreme Court established that the right to freedom of speech and expression is not only an individual right but also a collective one, and that peaceful protest is an essential aspect of this right.
  • Suk Das v Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh (1986): The Supreme Court upheld the right to peaceful protest, stating that peaceful protests are a fundamental right and cannot be suppressed on the grounds of public order.
  • People's Union for Civil Liberties v Union of India (1997): The Supreme Court upheld the right to peaceful protest and stated that the right to protest is an essential aspect of the right to freedom of speech and expression, and cannot be restricted unless it poses a threat to public order.
  • PUCL v State of Tamil Nadu (2004): The Supreme Court upheld the right to peaceful protest, stating that peaceful protests are an essential aspect of the right to freedom of speech and expression and cannot be restricted unless it poses a threat to public order.
  • D.K. Basu v State of West Bengal (1997) : The Supreme court laid down guidelines for the arrest and custodial deaths, to ensure that the rights of the individual are protected during arrest.

These landmark judgments have helped to establish and uphold the right to peaceful protest in India, while also balancing it with the need to maintain public order.

Conclusion 

Peaceful protest is a protected right under the Indian Constitution, however, in recent years, the government has taken a strong stance against peaceful protests and has used force to disperse them. There have been reports of police brutality and human rights violations during the handling of protests, and there have been instances where the government has imposed strict restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly. Despite this, peaceful protests continue to occur throughout the country, particularly in response to issues such as the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, police brutality and farmers' rights, but India is a nation of activist and protest are a heartbeat of the country it allows the people to show their disagreement with the power and subsequently brings change in the society.

William Faulkner rightly said “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth.”


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