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How can this guide help you
The Guide to Lawful Protesting helps you understand your right to protest as a citizen and empowers you with the knowledge of how to carry out lawful protests, steps to follow to take necessary permissions from the police or other relevant authorities, and your rights as a protestor.
The Guide covers your rights in the event you are arrested while carrying out a protest and provides information on legal remedies you can avail of in such circumstances. It also discusses the exceptions to your right to protest, i.e. circumstances when the police can refuse to grant you the permissions required to carry out any protests.
What are the laws being discussed in this guide
To discuss the relevant laws in place under which you need to acquire permissions to carry out protests, it is important to note that ‘law and order’ is a subject covered under the State list in the Constitution of India, 1950. This means that every State has the power to make its own laws and rules that govern law
and order within the territory of their own State and hence, the rules to apply for permissions to carry out protests and public gatherings will differ from State to State. For example, the Karnataka Police Act, 1963 that deals with the maintenance of public order will govern how permissions for protests are granted in the State of Karnataka. This guide will provide you a general overview of the kinds of permissions that need to be requested and list down authorities to approach for the same.
As a citizen of India, your right to protest flows from two fundamental rights guaranteed to you under Article 19 of the Constitution of India, 1950 – freedom of speech and expression and the right to assemble in a public place without arms. However, it is important to know that this right is not an unconditional right and comes with certain limitations and requirements. This means that you can exercise your right to protest by way of a peaceful public gathering provided you take all necessary permissions from authorities and maintain public order while doing so.
The right to protest is coupled with your correlative fundamental duty to abide by the Constitution to:
- Promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood
- Safeguard public property
- Abjure violence.1
Several cases brought before the Supreme Court over the years have reaffirmed the right to protest to be an integral part of democracy and further laid down directions to be followed by the state authorities and by the citizens to ensure this right is lawfully exercised.
Where to apply?
You need to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the police station within whose jurisdiction you have planned the public gathering for the protest. Some police departments may have a specific form or permission that
you must fill out. If the protest is in the form of a rally or public gatherings which may fall within the jurisdiction of more than one police station, make the application for the NOC from the Commissionerate office or to the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police.
Details to include in the application
This application for the NOC or any specific permissions for the protest must have the following details:
- Your name, address, and contact number, along with details of other organisers of the protest.
- Reasons for the protest
- Duration of the protest
- Approximate number of people participating
- Place of assembly
- Route of the rally (if any)
- Use of equipment like loudspeakers, tents, pandals, etc.
|Note: Separate permissions are required for the use of loudspeakers and for erecting any temporary structures like a tent or a pandal. Please ask the officials at the police station where you are making such an application for any separate forms that may need to be filled for using loudspeakers and tents.|
How to submit the application
Your application can be in a simple letter format with the abovementioned contents if the police department in your city does not have a specific form to be filled.
- The application should be addressed to the highest ranking officer of that police station or Deputy Commissioner of Police (if submitting with the Commissionerate office).
- Your application must be accompanied by your identity proof, residence proof, photograph and any other relevant documents that the application requires.
- Carry two copies of the letter. Submit one copy with the police station/officer in charge and get the other copy signed and/or stamped for your record.
- While submitting the application the police officer receiving your application may ask you additional details on arrangements of crowd control, access to facilities of water, washrooms, etc for those gathering at the protest, details for coordination with police officials to be present at the gathering, etc. In some cases, the police may ask you and/or the other organisers to submit an affidavit providing these details.
Can permission for a peaceful protest be denied?
Yes, police authorities can deny permissions for protests. While you have a right to protest, you must know that this is not an unconditional right. There are certain reasonable restrictions2 imposed by the Constitution of India, 1950 on this right under which the police can deny your request. The police can deny your
request or permission granted if your protest might affect any of the following:
- The interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India
- The security of the State
- Friendly relations with foreign States
- Public order
- Decency or morality
- In relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence.
While considering your request for conducting a protest in a specific area, the police also have to keep in mind the interests of residents and issues of public order in that area.3 If the police or state authorities like a District Magistrate, refuse your request or withdraw your permission, they must provide specific reasons for the denial and precise nature of threat, risks posed by your protest/gathering and reasons for imposing prohibitory orders on an ongoing protest.4
Can permission for an ongoing protest be revoked?
Yes, permissions for ongoing peaceful gatherings or protests can be revoked by imposing a prohibitory order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. It is often colloquially referred to as imposing a curfew in a particular area.
If permission is denied, can you appeal?
If your application for holding a public gathering or a rally for a protest gets denied by the Senior Inspector of the police station or the Deputy Commissioner of Police(DCP), you can make an appeal to the Additional Commissioner of Police(ACP).
A prohibitory order is an order passed by either the District Magistrate, Sub-Divisional Magistrate or Executive Magistrate empowered by the State when immediate prevention is required and when such orders or direction would prevent or is likely to prevent:
- Any obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person or a danger to human life
- Health, safety, or disturbance of public tranquility
- Riot or an affray
A Section 144 order is directed either to individuals or a group of persons residing in a
place or the public in general when visiting a particular place. The Courts have held that the police cannot arbitrarily impose such orders. Even if the order is being imposed under reasonable restrictions as provided by law, it must provide sufficient reasons for imposing such a prohibition. Furthermore, if a Sec 144 order is imposed to prevent an ongoing protest from becoming violent, sufficient notice to those protesting to evacuate from the public place or gathering has to be provided by the police.
|What happened in the Ramlila Maidan Case?
In 2011, there were mass protests in the country against the rising corruption. One of the groups protesting were Baba Ramdev and his supporters at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. On the midnight of 4-5 June 2011, a prohibitory order under Sec 144 was imposed and protestors were forcibly evicted
from the maidan that injured several people and left one dead. Extreme measures such as water cannons, lathi charge and tear gas shells were used to forcibly evict people who were peacefully protesting. This matter was taken up suo moto by the Supreme Court where it upheld the right of the protesters to carry out peace dharnas, gatherings and demonstrations to voice their opinion as being an essential part of their right to free speech and expression. The Court emphasized the importance of giving sufficient reasons by the police for denying or revoking permissions of an impending or ongoing peaceful protest. It further held that if a prohibitory order under Section 144 is imposed to stop an ongoing protest, sufficient notice must be given to the protestors to evacuate and not forcibly evict them like they did at Ramlila Maidan. In Re: Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary and Ors
Key steps to follow
Always remember to follow the steps given below during any protest:
- Carry permissions with you: Please make sure that you and all other organisers of the protests have copies of the permissions granted to you for the protests along with any other permissions for use of loudspeakers, tents, etc.
- Maintain public order: As an organiser or participant of a protest, it is your fundamental duty to maintain public order and peacefully voice your opinions. Your right to exercise your fundamental right to speech and expression should not violate the rights of other citizens not participating in the protest to access public places or services.
- Stay within areas designated for protests: You must also ensure that the gathering is limited to the area demarcated for protests as provided in the permissions obtained from the police. It is essential that you do not trespass into private property. If the protest is being held on a private property, prior NOC has to be taken from the owner of the private property.
- Cooperate with the police: If the protest turns violent and fighting or affray breaks out, cooperate with the police authorities while they contain the situation.
|In 2020, the Supreme Court delivered a judgement in the context of the Shaheen Bagh protests opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. In its judgement, the Court said that while citizens have the right to peaceful protest, demonstrations which exhibit dissent should take place only in designated places. The Court also said that public ways and public spaces cannot be permanently occupied by protesters, and the right to protest must be balanced with the right of commuters to conveniently access public roads and pathways.5|
|If you are a woman, please note that your arrest can only be carried out by a woman police official. It is also important to note that women cannot be arrested between sunset and sunrise, i.e. 6 PM and 6 AM. In the exceptional circumstance when the woman has to be arrested at night, the woman police officer has to take permission in writing from the local Judicial Magistrate. To know more about the law on arrest, please read Nyaaya explainer on Arrest.|
What are your rights if you are arrested during a protest
During the course of a protest, if you, as an organiser or a participant, are arrested, you have the following rights:
- Right to inform a family member or friend of your arrest
- Right to access a lawyer. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you can request the services of the District Legal Services Authority.
- Right to be informed about the charges being levied against you that are recorded in the arrest memo
- Right to read and examine the arrest memo before signing it. You must also be given a copy of this arrest memo.
- You must be informed whether the offence you are being charged with is bailable or non bailable. If it is a bailable offence, you can pay the table bail amount and be released. If it is a non bailable offence, you must be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of your arrest.
- If you are hurt, the nature of the injuries must be recorded in the arrest memo and must be taken for treatment to a civil surgeon/government hospital.
- Police Control Room – 100/112
- Ambulance – 102
- Fire Brigade – 101
- Check if there is a curfew or any prohibitory orders like Section 144 in the area you want to protest in
- Apply for an No Objection Certificate (NOC) from either the local police or the Deputy Commissioner of Police(DCP) office
- Mention the correct details in the NOC application including duration of protest, reasons for protest etc.
- Obtain separate permission for loudspeakers and tents for the protest
- Make arrangements for first aid, water etc. during protest
- Ensure that the protest is peaceful and without violence
- Article 51A, Constitution of India, 1950
- Article 19(2) and 19(3), Constitution of India, 1950
- Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan v. Union of India and Anr (2018) 17 SCC 324
- Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India (2020) SCC Online SC 25; In Re: Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary and Ors 2012 (2) Scale 628
- Amit Sahni v. Commissioner of Police and Ors. CA No. 3283 of 2020, Supreme Court of India