Protests in public places are unacceptable

The Supreme Court on Wednesday disapproved of the Shaheen Bagh protests saying “demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone” and that citizens’ fundamental rights are coexistent with duties, while also stressing governments’ need to tolerate opposition in a democracy. “In a democracy, the opposition is not only tolerated as constitutional but must be maintained because it is indispensable,” the apex court said quoting American writer Walter Lippmann.
Hundreds of ordinary women, led by a band of grandmothers and some accompanying their young children, had blocked a road at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi in a peaceful sit-in against the new citizenship matrix. They had resisted threats and abuse from ruling party politicians and firing by youth to continue for over 100 days from mid-December till the lockdown when most of the demonstrators left and the rest were thrown out by police. It was COVID-19 pandemic as the “hand of God” that had caused the protest to end.
In response to two pleas against the agitation that started in December and went on for more than 100 days, the Supreme Court in February had sent senior lawyers Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran as interlocutors to talk to the leaderless gathering about allowing traffic to pass through GD Birla Marg, which had been barricaded by both protesters and police. The apex court ruled that public places cannot be occupied indefinitely and that protests cannot obstruct citizens. Supreme Court’s verdict is most welcome!
 All of this suggests that Indian democracy is best served when citizens freely express their views, mobilise and protest, but do so without undermining the rights of fellow-citizens. This will help keep the trust between differing constituencies and enhance the legitimacy of dissent. Article 19 of our Constitution gives citizens the right to speak freely and assemble peacefully “and protest against the actions or inactions of the State.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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