Many treaties, including the Declaration of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the British Convention on Human Rights, the American Constitution on Human Rights, the African Declaration on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and most national constitutions across the world accept this basic human right.
Freedom of speech is one of the tools of democratic communities through which citizens may bring about societal change. Perhaps the first idea that springs to your mind when you hear the word “freedom of speech” is a large rally on your city’s biggest street, or a massive march down your capital ‘s biggest avenue headed by a well-known civil rights protester or opposition figure. But assemblies will take a broad array of forms
Freedom of Assembly [ Article 19(1)(b) ]
Article 19 (1)(b) guarantees to all the citizen of India “to assemble peacefully and without arms”. The right of Assembly include the right to hold meetings and to take out procession. This right is however subject to following restrictions.
- The assembly must be peaceable
- It must be unarmed
- Reasonable restriction can be imposed under clause 3 of Article 19
Within the basic concept of a representative government the freedom to assembly is suggested. Consequently, the freedom to assembly requires the ability to have gatherings and to carry out processions. Unlike other human freedoms, the right is not total nor restrictive. The meeting must remain non-violent, and does not infringe public security. Unless the assembly is disruptive or riotous then it is secured in compliance with Article 19(1)(b) and fair limitations can be enforced in the interests of Indian sovereignty and dignity or public order under Article 19, paragraph 3.
When a lawful assembly becomes unlawful – Article 19(1)(b) shall, where the limitations are appropriate, protect current Indian legislation governing public meetings in the context of public order. When every body is unconstitutional it will be dissolved. Chapter 8 of the Indian Penal Code points out the requirement that an assembly is “unlawful” Pursuant to section 141 of the Indian Penal Code, an assembly of five or more people is an unlawful assembly if the main intention of the assembly member is ——
- To resist the execution of any law or legal process.
- To commit any mischief or criminal trespass .
- Obtaining possession of any property by force.
- To compel a person to do what he is not legally bound to do or omit which he is legally entitled to do.
- By means of criminal force or show of criminal force to overawe the Government or any public servant in the exercise of his lawful
- In the case of Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union Of India & Ors., the Supreme Court had stated, “Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest which cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action.”
- It was in Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of Indiathat Justice Bhagwati had said, “If democracy means government of the people by the people, it is obvious that every citizen must be entitled to participate in the democratic process and in order to enable him to intelligently exercise his rights of making a choice, free & general discussion of public matters is absolutely essential.”
In democratic societies, assembly organizers can choose the time and place they find best suited to express their views and communicate their message. There are other impositions that democratic states can legally place on these public affairs without compromising the spirit of assembly rights. For example, banning a purposely loud demonstration in a subdivision in the middle of the night may be legitimate, for this can disproportionately disturb the lives of many. Yet denying a warning for a noisy rally in front of the Parliament building during a session will not be valid. This could even be appropriate to deny a order to shut all the vital roads in a given city for the sake of a large march for a whole day, for that will preclude thousands of citizens from bringing their children to and from school, from ambulances entering hospitals in time, and so on. And the occupants must accept any proportionate annoyance.
States have detrimental and constructive responsibilities with regards to nonviolent protests. The negative responsibility is that no nonviolent protest should be dealt with and banned by the State and police. The constructive responsibility is to support and defend nonviolent protests by organizing traffic, preserving public safety and defending the demonstrators from those that intend to disrupt the demonstration.
There are protests that happen and go unnoticed by the authorities, either because they happen accidentally or because the protest has been prohibited. However, it should be emphasized that a lack of notice does not in and of itself give the State a free pass to use force against peaceful demonstrators. If a demonstration is considered unlawful – due to a lack of notice – this does not mean that the police have the automatic right to intervene. When there is a lawful protest there is no excuse for intervening.
A benefit to society
States do not limit assembly rights merely because the participants wish to convey ideas that are not common, or because those in government feel that the ideas at hand will, in the long run, contravene the interests of society. Of necessity, governments will legally break up a rally when public health is threatened. For example, when a demonstration that has begun peacefully becomes violent, such as people setting cars on fire or breaking into shops, police may legitimately use force to break up the crowd, thereby protecting other citizens’ property and physical well-being. Yet in these situations the power that the state uses will never surpass the minimal force required to regain normalcy.
Society profits from providing for free elections to exist in critical ways. Assembly equality is an essential mechanism through which the people may communicate their opinions to its representatives and other members of society. It encourages democratic dialogue and tolerance, and is therefore an important resource for bringing about improvement in society.
Since having a march needs comparatively fewer effort compared with other methods to successfully convey a message, it is sometimes utilized by the poor who otherwise can not have their presence known. Demonstrations will annoy us, especially when we’re trying to drive to work and because of the demonstration, the shortest way to our office is blocked. It may be distracting too. But as we work in a community together we will note how important it is that we all have a say on what we do and how we do it. They ‘re losing their freedom because citizens are denying their opportunity to speak up.
A basic feature of India’s constitution is the freedom of people to demonstrate and assemble freely without weapons. Although it is still the government’s duty to defend people from violent demonstrations, it is necessary to bear in mind certain basic values.
Some of the fundamental values on which society lives and thrives is the freedom to dissent. Nonetheless, as demonstrated in recent demonstrations in several countries, when a demonstration becomes aggressive it contradicts the entire intent of the demonstration. Although experiencing the freedoms of a democratic community one must stick to one’s roles and obligations.
This blog is written by Arvind Bhati, Lloyd Law College.
Some of Arvind Blogs-
- Writs under the Indian Constitution
- Preventive Detention
- Abolition of Titles (Article 18)
- Right to Assembly
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