Thursday, March 4, 2021

Not anytime and everywhere!

Editorial

Those who are extra fond of romanticising anarchy in the name of dissent should keep mum for some time after the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the review petition filed by 12 activists seeking review of the earlier verdict of the apex court where it was ruled that the public places cannot be occupied indefinitely in the name of protests.

The SC has rejected the plea of the activists and has laid down some plain principles in plain words. It clearly said: “The right to protest cannot be anytime and everywhere. There may be some spontaneous protests but in case of prolonged dissent or protest, there cannot be continued occupation of public place affecting rights of others.”

This should settle all arguments from the leftist anarchist separatist side at least for some time, although it is very difficult to expect a fish to remain out of water for too long.

This is what every common man was thinking even before the matter reached the SC.

Can a group of people occupy the main thoroughfare of any township or city, or a railway track for that matter, in the name of protest and occupy it indefinitely inconveniencing everyone else?

Why can’t the same people protest inside their own rooms or houses? Or outside their houses? Why inconvenience others?

The lame liberal argument was – democracy cannot function without dissent as protests and dissent are hallmarks of democracy.

Really?

We always thought that the right to vote and casting of votes were the hallmarks of democracy.

Isn’t dissent something that should be limited to the act of speaking, writing or expressing one’s views in sign language?

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Or does it also allow breaking things, burning things and vandalising public property or blocking roads?

It is good that the SC has given an end to the meaningless debate over how much freedom a crowd should have to inconvenience others indefinitely.

The SC judgment, of which a review was pleaded for, was earlier delivered in response to a batch of pleas filed by the protesters, protesting against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), in the Shaheen Bagh last year.

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The three judge bench, comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari, while dismissing the review petition held that “the constitutional scheme comes with a right to protest and express dissent but with an obligation to have certain duties. The right to protest cannot be anytime and everywhere. There may be some spontaneous protests but in case of prolonged dissent or protest, there cannot be continued occupation of public place affecting right of others.”

The SC is still not harsh enough and its judgment sounds very courteous to the anarchists, especially when it says that ‘there may be some spontaneous protests’.

Why only spontaneous? The protests can be perennial too.

But, the one and only one condition must be added and must be fulfilled that the protest should be done on one’s own property and without inconveniencing anyone else.

Protestor’s right to protest cannot be greater than any other citizen’s right to normal life.

The matter is so simple to settle. Yet the SC and the government seem to be so thoughtful in not hurting the sentiments of anarchist groups.

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One wonders why the establishment is so considerate towards the anarchists and separatists, while it wastes not a minute in smothering individuals crossing the limits of laws.

It may be added here that earlier, a three-judge bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Krishna Murari and Hrishikesh Roy, while hearing the original matter, had flayed the Delhi Police for not doing its job under the pretext of having endless talks.

In that judgment, the Bench had made it clear that: 1) Public places and roads can’t be occupied indefinitely 2) Protests are permissible only in designated areas 3) Right to commute can’t be indefinitely curtailed and 4) Right of protest has to be balanced with right to commute.

It may be recalled that the Shaheen Bagh protests against the passage of the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act had begun on Dec 14, 2019. The protest ended with the advent of Corona pandemic and imposition of national lockdown, after the protesters were removed by the police from the protest site on March 24. 2020

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After that the demonstrators had written letters to the Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde against their “forcible and vindictive removal” by the Delhi Police and sought a direction from the Supreme Court for citizens’ rights.

It may be recalled that the CAA provides citizenship to refugees from six minority communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

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