Updated: Jun 19
Author: SHIFA QURESHI,
Aligarh Muslim University
The introduction of our Indian Constitution which is known as Preamble assures “Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship.” Further Article 19(1) Clause (a) to (c) promises:
● to freedom of speech and expression;
● to assemble peaceably and without arms;
● to form associations or unions.
The abovementioned rights encompass within itself the freedom to express dissent. An important right to disagree can be deduced from the right of freedom of opinion and the right of freedom of conscience. The right to disagree, the right to dissent and the right to take another point of view would exist essentially intrinsically in each and every citizen of the country. By analyzing these together it’s more than obvious that the right to dissent is the biggest and one of the most important rights granted by the Constitution.
A society degenerates if it only sticks to the age-old rules and conventions. In case everyone follows the well-trodden path, no modern ways will be created, no new explorations will be done and no modern prospect will be found. If an individual does not inquire questions and does not raise doubts questioning age ancient frameworks, no modern frameworks would create and the horizons of the intellect will not extend. Modern scholars are born when they disagree with the well-accepted standards of society.
In a democratic society, the need to acknowledge the difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of plurality. In that sense, the right of dissent too becomes the duty of dissent since tactics to suppress dissent tend to decrease the democratic essence. Suppose there's no dissent and the view of the head of the government is the view of everyone else within the nation. That would be a circumstance in which progress depends exclusively on the vision and commitment of the individual who possesses the most powerful office of the nation.
IMPORTANCE OF DISSENT IN A DEMOCRACY
Dissent is fundamental in a democracy. Dissent and disagreement are an integral part of a democratic country, and hence need to be permitted, rather encouraged, in order to grow and develop itself and to protect not only civil rights but also the economic rights of its citizens. Discussion, disagreement, and dialogue would result in better implementation of policies and betterment of common people living status.
Subsequently, there couldn’t be any democracy without dissent. As said by Justice D.Y Chandrachud in one of his addresses that the employment of state machinery to curb dissent instills fear, which violates the rule of law. He further summarized it as “The blanket labeling of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the heart of our commitment to protect constitutional values and the promotion of deliberative democracy,”
If a nation does not allow dissent to be expressed, it would lead to intolerance among the people. Modern countries usually consist of people of different races, ethnicities, languages, and religions, etc. People should be freely allowed to express their thoughts and grievances in order to survive and thrive in the nation. The intolerance of the government will lead to the stampeding of different minorities by the majority.
DISSENT EXPRESSED THROUGH JUDICIAL PRONOUNCEMENTS
⮚ Shreya Singhal V Union of India
It is one of the landmark cases which played an important role in the Indian legal system. The main point of discussion was the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India, and the constitutional validity of Section 66A was challenged. It led to the struck down of Section 66A of Information Technology Act 2000 and the punishment enshrined in the article, for sending offensive messages through communication services, etc. The dual bench of Justice R. F Nariman & Justice J. Chelameswar declared that Section 66A is not only vague and arbitrary but it also “Disproportionately invades the right of free speech” and hinders the right to dissent. Hence, this freed online speech in India from the threat of arrest and prosecution.
⮚ Additional District Magistrate, Jabalpur vs. Shivakant Shukla
In this case of 1976, the five judge bench by the majority of 4:1, arrived at the conclusion that Article 21 couldn’t be suspended because it is the sole repository of all rights to life and personal liberty and if suspended takes away all these rights altogether. Justine H.R Khanna was the lone dissenting judge who said that "the suspension of the right to move any Court for the enforcement of the right under Article 21, upon a proclamation of emergency, would not affect the enforcement of the basic right to life and liberty". He knew that he was putting his future as Chief Justice of India at stake. That did not deter him from doing his duty and delivering a judgment which even today has been acknowledged to be the correct position of law.
Recent happening in our country points out that there have been many instances where the government has tried to suppress the dissenting voices. The most recent example is of atrocities towards protesters, protesting against The Citizenship (Amendment) Act [CAA]. The nation has seen furore against the act since it was passed in December last year. A few protesters have been slapped with sedition charges and National Security Act [NSA], in the last few months., for "instigating violence" but the leaders have so far been immune to any such action.
Some instances which made news in the past few months are the following:
⮚ Dr. Kafeel Khan, on January 29 was arrested by UP Special Task Force for allegedly making instigating remarks at a protest rally in AMU. The UP police in its FIR charged Khan of sowing seeds of discord and disharmony towards other religious communities while he was addressing the rally on December 12. Later on February 14, he was charged under NSA (National Security Act). The thing which needs to be questioned is the timing. His whereabouts were very open on social media platforms but the UP police didn’t arrest him for over a month.
⮚ In the school in Karnataka's Bidar town on January 21, the headmistress of the Shaheen Urdu Medium Primary School staged a play criticizing of CAA. The headmistress was arrested on sedition charges which were filed by a complaint by an activist of ABVP (Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad). It was claimed that it was seditious and inflammatory.
⮚ Amulya Leona, a 20 year old journalism student was arrested on February 20 under sedition charges for chanting “Pakistan Zindabad” at an anti-CAA rally in Bengaluru. In a social media post she clarified that her statement was taken otherwise, she meant long live to all the countries. SC in many cases has clarified casual raising of slogans cannot attract sedition. But Amulya has been in the central prison in Bengaluru for more than two months now.
⮚ On April 10, Safoora Zargar and Meeran Haider who belonged to Jamia Millia University were arrested for being key conspirators in the Delhi riots that took place in the north-eastern part of the capital city in February. Before the riots, Safoora had been organizing peaceful protests against the CAA. Both are charged under the repressive Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act [UAPA].
⮚ Masrat Zahra and Gowhar Geelani, journalists in Jammu & Kashmir, were slapped with UAPA for posts and photographs on social media platforms.
This list doesn’t end here many are being arrested by the government on dissent and free speech. Many journalists, activists, lawyers, and students are being arrested under repressive laws. Like Umar Khalid(alleged involvement in the 2020 Delhi riots), Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha(alleged involvement in 2018 Bhima Koregaon riots), Sharjeel Imam(arrested for sedition for his speeches against the CAA), Akhil Gogoi(arrested by Assam Police under various sections of UAPA).
Recently while addressing an event, Supreme Court Justice Deepak Gupta said “Dissent is the most important right granted by the Constitution of India." Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression to every Indian citizen.” In a number of cases, the Supreme court has upheld, redefined, and expanded the limits of freedom of expression. Recently suppression of dissent has become a new norm in our country. The right to dissent incorporates the right to criticize. Everyone should be open to criticism. The criticism whether of the government or executive, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, or the Armed Forces cannot be termed as ‘Anti-National’. No doubt all the criticism or expression of dissent must be expressed in a peaceful manner.