Feb 24, 2022

Did you Know: There are Conditions Limiting Your Right to Protest

The Supreme Court has refused to reconsider its judgement on the Shaheen Bagh protests which opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.  


What was the Court’s judgement on the Shaheen Bagh protests?

In its Shaheen Bagh judgement, the Supreme 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.


Which law gives citizens the right to protest?

Article 19 of the Constitution of India, 1950 provides citizens with important fundamental rights such as:


  1. a) The right to freedom of speech and expression, under Article 19(1)(a)
  2. b) The right to assemble peacefully without arms, under Article 19(1)(b)


Together, these two rights enable every citizen to assemble peacefully and protest the actions or inactions of the government. The Supreme Court has said that the right to protest must be respected and encouraged because it strengthens democracy. However, the right to protest can also be restricted for certain reasons.


What are the restrictions on the right to protest?

Government authorities can regulate and impose restrictions on the right to protest for reasons such as:

  • Protecting the sovereignty and integrity of India 
  • Maintaining public order 


The restriction on peaceful assembly is often imposed through Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which is used to prohibit ‘unlawful’ assemblies of people.


Is police permission required for protesting?

Yes, in the Ramlila Maidan case, the Supreme Court said that in order to hold dharnas, processions and rallies, police permission is relevant and required in law. The Court held that such regulation helps in ensuring social order and is a reasonable restriction on the right to protest.


The Court stated that police authorities should be objective and keep in mind a citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression. They should not use their power to suppress the right to protest. The Court stated that refusal and/or withdrawal of permission to protest should only be for valid and exceptional reasons.


What if your protest causes inconvenience to other citizens?

In the case of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, the Supreme Court discussed the conflict between the right to protest, and the right of other citizens (non-protesters) to enjoy a life without interference by protests. The Court said that the right to protest must be balanced with every person’s right to life, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court emphasised on how during demonstrations, the principle of balancing the interests of residents in an area as opposed to the interests of protesters has to be done.


To know more on how you can protest lawfully and what protocols must be followed, read our Guide to Lawful Protesting.