INTRODUCTION The current COVID-19 pandemic has effected the economy and human rights in almost all the democratic societies, and not in a good way. Restrictions for safety of the citizen were to safeguard them from the virus but the same restrictions have had an ill-impact on freedom of liberty of each. Protests and mass assemblies have been prohibited to prevent the spread of the Novel Corona Virus all around the globe. But is it fair to devoid people of their right to freedom of speech and expression envisaged in Article 19(1) for the Indian Constitution.
IS ‘RIGHT TO DISSENT AND PROTEST’ REALLY ESSENTIAL IN THESE CHALLENGING TIMES
Protests are increasingly breaking out all around the world from USA’s Black Lives Matter movement; Protest against the Anti-Terror Bill of Philippines; Chilean’s protest against the Lockdown; Mass Assembly and Public Display in Brazil and Israel; to the recent Farmer’s Protest in India. The newspapers and news channels were flooded with such news all year long. Right to Protest and Dissent are protected by the Constitution, which guarantees freedoms of speech and expression, assembly, and the right to form unions. These rights are fundamental and cannot be compromised. But there are reasonable exceptions to everything especially in testing times like this. Protest is an effective way to express disagreement with government and it’s actions. However, practicing protest is very ambiguous and unclear in the current pandemic situation. The ability to raise voice and dissent from government is vital for a working democracy. It is hence arguable that people should be able to protest against what they see as Tyranny. But in the current scenario due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there’s a state if emergency and due to it strict restrictions have been imposed. Human rights have been effected severely. The bit by bit sapping of one of the fundamental rights – the right to freedom of speech and expression is leading to the gradual degradation of human rights.
But of course, our fundamental rights cannot be absolute. And therefore, the constitution has envisaged a few reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right to Freedom. Article 19(2) imposes reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression; these include restrictions in the interests of the sovereignty, integrity and security of India, public order and morality. Currently, farmers are protesting against the 3 Agri-Sect bills 2020 and marching towards the capital from Punjab and Haryana. Thousands of people assemble on the streets for protests so as to give a voice to their demands, to raise their voice against the claimed injustice. The farmers have a constitutional right to protest as long as their dissent against the three controversial agricultural laws. The protests are constitutional as long as it does not damage property and lives. But the protesters are not following the guidelines related to social distancing & use of mask at the protest place. Majority of protesters are elderly people who are more vulnerable to the virus, and it is in their best interest to avoid such mass gatherings and as the rate of transmission of COVID-19 is likely to get increased & since there is no vaccine available for mass use yet, the only way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to put immediate and total restrictions on such mass assemblies & practise social distancing. However, despite the peril of the virus, the protesters are still protesting neglecting the directions and guidelines issued by authorities. Also, a few days back an affidavit filed by Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPIM] highlighting an impression that the Court (Karnataka HC) was trying to impair and infringe their fundamental rights to hold protests and rallies.
Clearly under the facade of exercising their right to protest, they are abusing and misemploying their liberties and fundamental rights. CONCLUSION There is no doubt that the fundamental right to free speech is essential for any democracy to survive. When people goes up to protest, it is usually to showcase their disapproval against any action, policy, etc. of state or government to make them address and resolve their issues. Protesting is not merely a fundamental right by our Constitution but protesting against injustice is also a moral duty. But most protesters aren’t exercising their constitutional rights without threatening lives fellow citizens which is a serious misconduct and prima facie abuse of the liberties and rights provided to them. Right to Dissent and Protest are though vital even amidst the pandemic but it is important for each one of us to exercise our fundamental rights within reasonable limits laid down by law.