In this article, we look at protests in India to understand how and where a citizen can legally protest.
In the case of Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union Of India & Ors., the Supreme Court had stated, “Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest which cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action.”
It was in Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India that Justice Bhagwati had said, “If 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.”
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It is critical to remember that all protests are legal only if they are non-violent and carried out with appropriate permissions. “Fundamental duties that are enshrined in the constitution require that the rule of law is followed and that public property is not destroyed,” says Sapna Khajuria, a lawyer from New Delhi, speaking to The Better India.
The right to protest peacefully is enshrined in the Indian Constitution—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.
What permissions are needed to hold a protest?
Since ‘Law and Order’ is a State subject, the permissions to organise a protest will vary from state to state. Do check the local laws before you decide to protest. Broadly:
• Ensure that you have a police permit and a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the police. In case the police feel that the protest rally or demonstration will lead to unrest and go against public order, permission can be denied.
• Mention all the details of the protest in the petition you submit to the police.
• These must include the reason for the protest, its date and duration, the number of people expected to participate, and the route that the protestors will undertake.
• Also remember to include your name, address, and phone number.
• The documents that must be furnished include proof of identity, proof of residence, a photograph, and an affidavit.
Article 19(1)(3) says this right is subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of public order.
What are these reasonable restrictions?
• 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.
So, by all means, exercise your constitutional rights, but do remember to fulfil your duties as well.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)
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