On public protests, the SC is right | HT Editorial
The Supreme Court (SC) has qualified the right to protest, and said that while dissent and democracy go hand-in-hand, protests in public places for an indefinite period of time are unacceptable. A three-judge bench has also said that authorities must ensure the removal of the occupation of public places, and that they must not “hide behind court orders”. The order comes in response to a petition on the Shaheen Bagh protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA. The SC was, in effect, dealing with the tension between the right to protest of a set of citizens and the right to mobility and convenience of other citizens and has come up with a formulation which respects protests, but within limits.
This newspaper was critical of CAA, and recognised the symbolic importance of Shaheen Bagh — of peaceful dissenters, primarily Muslim women, who had the support and solidarity of a range of other groups, critiquing a law with the language of constitutionalism and secularism. But it was also critical of the blocking of roads, for the Shaheen Bagh protests — and a range of similar protests elsewhere — caused disruption and inconvenience for citizens. This also ended up deepening the communal divide. And what some saw as an effort to replicate Shaheen Bagh became the immediate trigger for the Delhi riots. All of this suggests that Indian democracy is best served when citizens freely express their views, mobilise and protest, but do so without undermining the rights of fellow-citizens. This will help keep the trust between differing constituencies and enhance the legitimacy of dissent.