The fact that both the “right to freedom of speech and expression” (article 19(1)(a)) and “right to assemble peaceably and without arms” (article 19(1)(b)) share the same article highlights the fact that both these rights are dependent on each other in more than one ways. Yet, from time to time, the question arises whether the right to freedom of speech and expression should take the precedence or the right to protest, which is lately being increasingly exercised under the purview of the right to assemble.
Given the fact that people today are being more and more oblivious to others’ lives, it is extremely difficult to organize such a hugely popular movement which has to its credit, if not any visible changes in legislation, the herculean task of tying the youth of the nation with a common feeling of rationality and self-realization. So what exactly motivated the youth of the nation, who have long been accused of being insensitive to the issues pertaining to nation’s interests, to stand up and take active part in a movement which doesn’t promise to provide any immediate relief to any of their problems?
These sudden turn of events went on to underline the fact that the citizens are willing to push their right to demonstrate and protest to the edge to ensure that their interests are not tampered with, and that the right to assemble and protest could be exercised more freely than ever, even if it meant that the right to freedom of speech and expression had to take the backseat for a while. However, it would be foolish to assume that both these rights could be distinguished as apples and mangoes.
The freedom of speech and expression can be curbed at times, but they can be regulated “only in specific circumstances and on grounds that are unexceptionable for protecting the sovereignty and integrity of India and maintaining public order”.
It can be exercised under circumstances, which makes it a very powerful weapon in our democracy, possibly more powerful than any other fundamental right provided to the citizens of the nation.
The right to assemble peacefully, and the right to protest lying therein, can be manipulated by the governments for the benefit of all.
I am sure that the constitution-makers would be proud of their work that including the freedom of speech and expression and right to assemble lawfully would ensure justice to the people and exempt these rights from being manipulated, they failed to imagine that the government could simply impose a new form of emergency on the citizens and play with the rights at their will. It is impossible to gauge whether the right to protest should be pushed above the freedom of expression or not.
But one thing cannot be denied; we cannot afford to use our freedom of expression effectively without exercising our right to protest. If the right to freedom of speech and expression is like a bow, then right to protest is undeniably its arrow.
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