Fight for survival for many versus Temporary suffering for some!
Why the question of Right to Protest versus Right to Livelihood arises?
Right to Protest:
- When all other avenues to secure the genuine demands of a vast majority of the population fail to work, the sufferers are left with only one option — to protest.
Right to Protest:
- This is what the aggrieved farmers have been doing for over a year now, spending 12 of those months at the borders of Delhi, facing all kinds of difficulties.
Right to Livelihood and Right to Public Service:
- Some other sections of society might also be getting affected, as a result, but when it comes down to the very survival of those who are feeding the nation, others need to sympathise.
Right to livelihood
- Right to Livelihood is a part of Right to Life under Article 21 of Indian Constitution.
- Livelihood can include basic shelter, food, education, occupation and medical care. As discussed earlier, the court’s view kept on transforming with time.
- The Supreme Court in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, popularly known as the “Pavement Dwellers Case” a five-judge bench of the Court now implied that ‘right to livelihood’ is borne out of the ‘right to life’, as no person can live without the means of living, that is, the means of Livelihood.
Right to protest
- The right to protest involves the exercise of two fundamental rights: freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution and the freedom to assemble peacefully under 19 (1) (b).
- In fact, the Supreme Court in “Maneka Gandhi vs The Union of India (1978)” case ruled that every citizen must have the right to participate in the democratic process, which allows exercising ones rights to make a choice, as well as free and general discussions on public issues which are absolutely essential.
- From the legal angle, the Constitution of India, guarantees the right to peaceful protest, which is strongly protected under Article 19, though the word “protest” is not mentioned explicitly:
- Article 19(1)(a): Freedom of Speech and Expression.
- Article 19 (1)(b): Right to assemble peacefully
- Article 19 (1) (c): Right to form associations and Unions.
- However, these provisions extend to peaceful protests only, and any violence in the name of protest is held to be unconstitutional.
- These Supreme Court conclusions reaffirm the constitutional guarantees to legal and non-violent protest in judgements such as “Ramlila Maidan Incident vs. Home Secretary, Union of India & Others, (2012)”.
- Here, the apex court held that citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest, that cannot be removed from arbitrary executive or legislative action.
Is this Right to Protest absolute in Nature?
- The Constitution of India has itself stated that Fundamental Rights are not absolute and subject to certain limitations. If people were given complete freedom without any control, it will negatively affect society. The rights are therefore subject to reasonable restrictions under-
- Article 19(2), Part III of the Indian Constitution, where Indian state can impose restrictions in the name of maintaining societal stability and national security. The following are those situations where restrictions can be imposed on the people:
- 1. If the friendly relations we share with a neighbouring country are threatened.
- 2. In case of violation of public order.
- 3. If there is contempt of court.
- 4. If India’s sovereignty and integrity are threatened.
- The Supreme Court in the case of the “Railways Board Vs Niranjan Singh”, noted a similar limitation on the right to protest.
- The judgement indicates that the protest and assembly does not apply to the right of infringing someone else’s property.
- The judgement thus reiterates that all reasonable restrictions are imposed on the interests of India’s state security, friendly relations with foreign countries, and public order.
- It cannot be arbitrary in nature.
Himatlal Case 1972
- It held that the right which flows from Art. 19 (1) (b) is not a right to hold a meeting at any place and time.
- However, it was found that the impugned Rules confers arbitrary powers on the officer authorised by the Commissioner of Police and therefore, it must be struck down.
- Public streets are the ‘natural’ places for expression of opinion and dissemination of ideas: Justice KK Mathew
Why the restrictions are important?
- When seen in the light of these provisions, the nature of rebellion and their actions India saw at the Red Fort in Delhi on the 26th of January were far from peaceful.
- Protest at Shaheen Bagh and blocking of public ways and roads.
- Recent incedent of gruesome murder of a Dalit labourer at a farmers’ protest site in Singhu.
- Article 51A (Fundamental Duties) states it is the duty of every Indian citizen to safeguard public property, preserve the environment as well as composite culture, among other duties.
- These ongoing protests have gained the attention of international media, with celebrities in India and abroad talking about the same.
- The Ministry of External Affairs in a press release this month declared “Some of these vested interest groups have also tried to mobilise international support against India.
- This is extremely disturbing for India and for civilised society everywhere.”
- Thus, any protest which promotes violence and instigates people in any form is illegal and unethical in the Indian context.
- India has been a country of non-violence and civil disobedience, with the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi gaining popularity with each passing day.
- The government and farmers’ leaders must come to an agreement through talks, annihilating fear of farmers and arriving on common ground through mutual consensus.