IS DISSENT TRULY A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT?
If there is criticism these days, there is a high possibility that the powerful will react by denouncing it or perhaps retaliating with a ruthless misuse of power. In India, holding a peaceful dissent might end you up behind bars. Now, what exactly does dissent mean? Dissent is holding or expressing an opinion of non-agreement or opposition to a prevailing idea or policy enforced by a government authority, political party, any entity, or individual.
Stating our opinions is our fundamental right, then what’s the issue?
The problem is with our political leaders who portray, Democracy and Dissent go hand in hand! Whereas in the real world, Dissent and Political Crimes go hand in hand.
Disha Ravi, a young climate activist, was arrested and charged under the statute, which critics say is being used by the government to silence its opponents.
Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Arun Ferreira, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Vernon Gonsalves, and Varavara Rao; have been wrongfully detained since 2018 in the Bhima Koregaon case.
The list of such cases doesn’t end here. Further, In December, police in Uttar Pradesh detained and allegedly beat activists involved in organizing protests against the new Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed citizenship verification process that could exclude millions of Indian Muslims. Sadaf Jafar, an activist associated with the opposition Congress party, was arrested on December 19 in Lucknow as she filmed the protest. A theatre artist and a cultural activist Deepak Kabir, went to the police station to inquire about Jafar. He was arrested too and was beaten by over a dozen police inspectors. In Assam state, the police detained several activists charging some of them with sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for protesting against the new citizenship law. In January, Delhi police held a university student with sedition. And, after all this, we call dissent our fundamental right!
Indian police have been detaining people for dissent, and in several cases, used sedition or counterterrorism laws against government critics and social activists. While, few prosecutions were eventually dropped or abandoned because many people who were only exercising their right to free speech were detained, kept in pre-trial detention, and subjected to costly criminal proceedings. So, the question arises, what is the significance of the statement made by Justice Deepak Gupta that reads, The Right to Dissent is the most important right granted by the constitution? Do the governmental actions prove it? The problem in India isn’t that the constitution doesn’t guarantee free speech; it’s that free speech is easy to silence due to a mix of overbroad legislation, an inefficient criminal justice system, and the lack of jurisprudential consistency. The Indian court system is ill-famed for being congested and overburdened, resulting in prolonged and costly delays that can deter even the most innocent people from fighting for their right to free expression. And at the major fault is the sedition law, one of the most abused laws which have been used by successive governments to arrest and silence critics. The Indian Penal Code, Section 124A, forbids any spoken or written remarks, as well as any signs or visible representations, that can incite or attempt to incite “hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection” toward the government. Although India’s Supreme Court has limited the use of the sedition legislation by requiring encouragement of violence, police continue to file sedition charges even when this criterion is not met.
CASES RELATED TO BREACH OF RIGHT TO DISSENT
UMAIR KHALID’S CASE–
In September 2020, the Delhi Police detained Umair Khalid, a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He was accused by the authorities of being a participant in the Delhi riots over the CAA. In his address, he allegedly used provocative remarks to incite public violence in violation of the Act. People realized Umair did not say anything provocative after the whole video footage of his address was posted on digital sites.
Farm Laws 2020 is a recent example of a recent incident. Farmers belonging to Punjab have been protesting the government’s agricultural reform regulations since they went into force. These regulations limit the government’s involvement in the industry, making it exposed to the market. To prevent the farmers from carrying out their protests, the administration sent police personnel. They also used tear gas and water cannons to chase them off the highways.
THE TOOLKIT CASE–
Another instance involving a now-famous climate activist occurred recently. Disha Ravi was apprehended by the Delhi Police in early February of this year. She was accused of disseminating a toolkit (a collection of resources on a specific topic) on social media in connection with the farmers’ protest. According to the police officers’ accusations, the bundle of materials included links to pro-Khalistani websites. They accused Disha of sedition for (seemingly) opposing the government and, in reality, supporting the farmers. Her bail application was allowed by the Sessions Court in Delhi about a month later, and she was released from police custody.
It’s a huge irony that India portrays itself as a government that embraces technology and innovation while clamping down on opponents using century-old rules. India has both the chance and the obligation to promptly begin reforms, which might serve as a positive example to other countries in the region that are similarly hampered by outdated legislation. Authorities should recognize that criticism can lead to corrective action and improve everyone’s rights. The laws or sections which criminalize peaceful dissents must be repealed or amended. Criminal defamation laws should be abolished because they can lead to very harsh consequences, including imprisonment. The police department and the judiciary must be trained to not file inappropriate cases and shall know all the set standards for free speech. so, that they dismiss cases that infringe on protected speech.
As Justice Deepak Gupta said, Criticism of the executive, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, or the Armed Forces cannot be termed ‘anti-national’. If we try to silence criticism of the institutions, whether it’s the legislature, the administration, the judiciary, or other government organizations, we’ll end up with a police state rather than a democracy, which is something the founding fathers never intended.
Under the Constitution, every person has the right to question, criticize, verify, and demand accountability from the government. These rights should never be taken away because otherwise, we would become a lifeless society incapable of further development. At last, one thing has to be remembered Our democracy will not sustain if we cannot guarantee freedom of speech and expression. Therefore, A PEACEFUL DISSENT IS TRULY A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT and it shall be treated the same.
-  The Right to Dissent is the Most Important Right Granted by the Constitution: Justice Gupta
-  Case against Umar Khalid based on edited YouTube clip, says his lawyer | Latest News Delhi – Hindustan Times
-  Disha Ravi case: What is a toolkit that has brought activists under the lens? – India News
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