IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

The purpose of protests

13th October, 2020 Polity

Context: Protests cannot be time bound; they will be indefinite if injustice is indefinite


  • The recent order of the Supreme Court on the protests in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi can help the state or the government further subjugate the people, and that too lawfully.
  • The court made the dangerous observation that “the mode and manner of dissent against colonial rule cannot be equated with dissent in a self-ruled democracy.”

“Self-ruled” is a trap

  • Mahatma Gandhi had famously said that “we want English rule without the Englishman”.
  • He was blunt: “I have no desire to exchange ‘king log’ for ‘king stork’.”

Who is this ‘self’ in ‘self-rule’? Does it encompass all our diverse selves?

  • Real Swaraj come not by the acquisition of authority by a few, but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused.
  • In other words, Swaraj is to be attained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority.”

An attempt to restore equality

  • Resistance to authority or protest is thus intrinsic to citizenship or peoplehood.
  • Protests cannot be made to order. Governments cannot be allowed to dictate in these matters.
  • This is precisely what the Supreme Court has unfortunately tried to do in its judgment on the propriety of the nature of the Shaheen Bagh protests.
  • Protests happen because the conditions for dialogue seem non-existent. Dialogues presuppose equality.
  • People protest because they feel that they have been forced into an unequal situation. Protests attempt to gain or restore equality.
  • It is not the protests which cause a crisis.
  • Protests arise simply because the governments create a crisis — that too by lawful means, through the passage of discriminatory laws.
  • Protests do not disturb the balance in society; they erupt only because a balance has been upset.

Police action

  • When Muslims and believers in the principle of equal citizenship came out to lodge their protest, they were brutalised by the police
  • Police action was carried out not to maintain order, but to teach the protesters a lesson.
  • When senior lawyers Indira Jaising and Colin Gonsalves approached the Supreme Court requesting it to restrain the police, the court negated the right to protest and failed the people.
  • Shaheen Bagh was a choice arising out of a huge trust deficit in society, which has only been aggravated by this majoritarian regime.


Balancing two rights

  • The court was hearing a petition by a citizen who felt Shaheen Bagh sit-in as the protest deprived him of his right to mobility.
  • The court equated the two and felt that there had to be a balance between the right to mobility and the right to protest.
  • The court was convinced that the prolonged sit-in caused traffic snarls and violated the right to mobility of the people.


  • The court accepts that democracy is not democracy if dissent is disallowed, but it says protests cannot be indefinite and have to be done in designated spaces.
  • Protests are not done for the sake of pleasure. It has to be appreciated that peaceful protesters endure suffering to force the unjust party or the powers that be to speak to them.
  • Protests cannot be time bound. They’ll be indefinite if injustice is indefinite.