Right to protest in and on Lakhimpur Kheri needs to be protected, the legal quibble can come later

Synopsis: The court can question the legal validity of the Acts, but that does not mean that the Right to protest can be halted from implementation.

Introduction

Earlier, the Supreme Court questions the farmers’ protests against the Centre’s farm laws on grounds that the matter is sub judice(under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited). The court has also asked whether the right to protest is an absolute right.

Must read: Law is clear, road blockades can’t go on endlessly, says Supreme Court

Recently, In Lakhimpur Kheri a minister’s convoy ran over protesting farmers, killing four of them, and setting off retaliatory violence that killed four more.

These two events again highlighted the issues surrounding the Right to protest.

About Right to protest in India

The right to protest is not a separate right in the Indian Constitution. It is implicit in Article 19(1)(a), which guarantees the freedom of speech and expression, and in Article 19(1)(b), the right to assemble peacefully.

It is integral to the right to protection of life and personal liberty enshrined in Article 21.

All rights are subject to reasonable restrictions. The right to protest is not just necessary in and of itself — it is also inalienable from the articulation and assertion of other rights and freedoms.

Read more: Right to Protest in India
Why the Supreme Court’s decision to question right to protest is ill-judged?

As per the Indian Express article, the SC’s decision to question the right to protest has the following flaws.

Infringes with Article 32: Questioning the Right to protest will came in conflict with Article 32, the right to constitutional remedy. Protest, dialogue and debate, challenge before courts — these are not at odds or mutually exclusive. Taken together, they help to secure the citizen against an arbitrary or transgressing state.

Against its own judgment: In Ram Lila Maidan Incident vs Home Secretary, Union of India and Others, 2012, the court had said: “The people… have a right to raise their voice against the decisions and actions of the government or even to express their resentment over the actions of the government… The government has to respect and in fact encourage exercise of such rights.”

Cannot be held as sub judice: The court held that farm laws are under judicial consideration and therefore protests are prohibited. But this is not the right interpretation. Many cases like the constitutionality of electoral bonds to the abrogation of Article 370 are pending before the court. But this does not mean that the people across the country should give up their constitutional right to speak out on these issues.

So, the right to protest needs to be protected, the legal questions on the laws can come later.

Source: This post is based on the article “Right to protest in and on Lakhimpur Kheri needs to be protected, the legal quibble can come later” published in Indian Express on 7th October 2021.

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