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The Right To Protest: Locating The Right To Protest In Part III Of The Constitution

"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Indian Constitution guarantees essential human rights in the form of Fundamental Rights under Part III. Freedoms guaranteed by the Part III of the constitution have been liberally constructed by various pronouncements of the Supreme Court. The object has been to place citizens at a Centre stage and make the state accountable.[1]

The seeds of protest were sown deep during our independence struggle like satyagraha, making protest an important and indelible chapter in India's history and this made the constitutional makers to believe that the Right to protest is an indispensable part of human life.

In an ordered society, every individual has a prima facie duty to follow the valid laws and protest against the laws which are inconsistent with the fundamental rights of the citizen.
Article 19(1)(b) guarantees to the citizen of India the Right to assemble peaceably and without arms i.e. Right to Protest but this right is also not absolute and reasonable restriction can be imposed on this right in the interest of Public order, and sovereignty and integrity of India and this power is given to the state through Article 19(3).

Public As Watchdog Of Government Actions

In a healthy democracy appreciation and criticism should go hand in hand. The government should entertain the critics which are dug out by the citizens of the nation and protest is just a medium to raise voice against arbitrariness by the state but only in a peaceful manner. As the most lime-lighted one these days is farmers protest against the three agricultural laws.

Judicial Pronouncements

Recognition Of Protest As A Fundamental Right

In Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union of India & Others[2], the Supreme Court had ruled that:
"Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest that cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action".

The Supreme Court in Anita Thakur and Ors. v. Govt. of J&K and Ors.[3], has held that holding a peaceful demonstration in order to air their grievances and to see that their voice is heard in the relevant quarters is the right of the people.

In Asha Ranjan v. State of Bihar and Ors.[4], the Hon'ble Supreme court observed that undoubtedly right of people to hold peaceful protests and demonstrations, etc., is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(b).

In Mazdoor kisan Shakti Sangathan v. Union of India[5], while reiterating that right to protest is one of the fundamental rights, the Supreme Court inter alia, observed that the same, "is crucial in a vibrant democracy like India but more so in the Indian context to aid in the assertion of the rights of the marginalized and poorly represented minorities".

In Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra[6], it was observed that the right of citizens to take out processions or hold public meeting flows from the right in Article 19(1)(b).

Limitation On Right To Protest

In Railway Board, New Delhi v. Niranjan Singh[7], Supreme Court observed that citizens of India have freedom of speech, freedom to assemble peaceably, and freedom to form an association, which does not mean that they can exercise those freedoms in whatever place they please.

In case of emergency certain specified class of Magistrate have power to issue order under Section 144[8] of CrPC., imposing restriction on holding of public meeting.[9]

Recognition Of Right To Protest On Global Platform

Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees:
  1. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.'
  2. No one may to compelled to belong to a particular association.[10]

India issued a statement in Geneva at the 29th Special Session of Human Rights Council that "The right to protest peacefully is an integral part of the democratic ethos".[11]

Effective protection of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly can also help foster a culture of open democracy, enable non-violent participation in public affairs.[12]

In the words of Waite CJ of the Supreme Court of US, "the very idea of a government, republican in form, implies a right on the part of the citizens to meet peaceably for consultation in respect of public affairs".[13]

In light of above statements, it can be said that the right to protest becomes an integral part of a democratic society and it is even necessary for the upliftment of the society but it should also be restrained by reasonable restrictions.

Walter Lipmann, Pulitzer Prize Winner said, "In a democracy, the opposition is not only tolerated as constitutional, but must be maintained because it is indispensable".

  1. People Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India, (2005) 2 SCC 436 : (2005) 1 JT 283.
  2. Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union of India & Others, 2012 (2) SCALE 682.
  3. Anita Thakur and Ors. v. Govt. of J&K and Ors., (2016) 15 SCC 525.
  4. Asha Ranjan v. State of Bihar and Ors., 2017 (4) SCC 397.
  5. Mazdoor kisan Shakti Sangathan v. Union of India, (2018) 17 SCC 324.
  6. Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1961 SC 884.
  7. Railway Board, New Delhi v. Niranjan Singh, AIR 1969 SC 966.
  8. Section 144, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
  9. V.N. Shukla, Constitution of India, 161 (Abhinandan Malik, 13th ed., 2017).
  10. Article 20, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
  11. United Nations Human Rights Council resolution adopted on 12 Feb. 2021, Human rights implications of the crisis of Myanmar,, accessed on 18 Mar. 2021.
  12. Report on factors that impede equal political participation and steps to overcome those challenges, UN Doc. A/HRC/27/29, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, 30 June 2014, Para. 22.
  13. United States v. Cruikshank, 23 L Ed 588 : 92 US 542, 552(1875).

Written By:
  1. Himadri Pandey, 4th Semester, Ll.B. (Hons.), Faculty Of Law: University Of Lucknow
  2. Utkarsh Kumar Gupta, 4th Semester, Ll.B.(Hons.), Faculty Of Law: University Of Lucknow

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