Violent protests not a basic right: Supreme Court

Demonstrations not covered under fundamental rights

Updated - March 17, 2018 08:07 pm IST

Published - March 17, 2018 08:06 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A government bus set ablaze by GJM supporters in Darjeeling in 2017.

A government bus set ablaze by GJM supporters in Darjeeling in 2017.

Public demonstrations resorting to violence, including stone-throwing, are not protected by the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the Supreme Court has held.

A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan observed that the reason for the demonstration might be genuine, but this did not give agitators the licence to resort to violence, destroying property and, at times, lives of citizens.

The judgment came on a plea by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader Bimal Gurung for protection against arrest in several cases filed against him by the West Bengal government for violent unrest in the Darjeeling Hills.

Only right to assemble

Justice Bhushan, who wrote the judgment, observed that the Constitution only protects the right to assemble peacefully. “Demonstrations, whether political, religious or social or other demonstrations, which create public disturbances or operate as nuisances or create or manifestly threaten some tangible public or private mischief are not covered by protection under Article 19(1) (free speech),” the court held. A demonstration was meant to convey a feeling of disillusionment to those in authority. But it might take different forms, it said.

“A demonstration may take various forms, it may be noisy and disorderly. For instance, stone-throwing by a crowd may be cited as an example of a violent and disorderly demonstration which is obviously not protected by either the fundamental right to free speech and expression or the fundamental right to assembly peacefully,” the court held.

Likewise, it held that the right to free speech includes the right to speak in public, but this too should not be used to incite violence.

The court referred to the Kerala High Court’s judgment on ‘bandhs’ to evoke the judicial objections against methods used by particular groups or parties or sects to paralyse the entire citizenry.

“No political party or organisation can claim that it is entitled to paralyse the industry and commerce in the entire State or nation and is entitled to prevent the citizens, not in sympathy with its viewpoint, from exercising their fundamental rights or from performing their duties for their own benefit or for the benefit of the State or the nation,” Justice Bhushan reproduced the verdict of the high court given almost 20 years ago.

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