India has witnessed an outpouring of citizen activism over the last several months. Protests have been held across the country over the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB/CAA), the attacks at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and the agitations over the National Population Register (NPR) amongst others.
The protests at Shaheen Bagh, in particular, have received a lot of media attention, especially after a man opened fire at the protestors and a four-month-old infant died due to exposure to the cold. Shaheen Bagh has also touched off an important and complex debate about the legality and legitimacy of protests, particularly as relates to public inconvenience and any disruptions they may cause.
Against this backdrop, while exercising our democratic rights is important, it is equally imperative to understand the laws around organizing and participating in protests, the permissions required, and our duties in conjunction with these. To understand these better, we asked Advocate Abhishek Bhat, an activist from Mumbai, to break it down for us.
The Apex Court of our country by a plethora of judgments has stated that the right to criticise the government and gather for peaceful demonstrations and protests are enshrined as our fundamental rights. Protests are an essential component of free speech and an important element of a vibrant democracy but at the same time, it cannot be unruly or contain an iota of violence. The major reasons for protests are to voice one’s dissent and to build a consensus over an idea or thought which is not as per the ruling party views.
To avoid such scenarios it is always better to take the respective No-Objection Certificate (NOC) or permissions from the police station within whose jurisdiction the protest is planned. If the protests are planned in multiple jurisdictions or if a protest rally is being organised where more than one police station is involved, it is always better to take the necessary permission from the Commissionerate office or the DCP office by issuing a letter with the name , number and other details of the organiser. One also needs to mention the number of people who wish to join the demonstration and if there is any need for a microphone or a speaker, as separate permissions for the same need to be taken. The letter must be submitted in a simple letter format addressed to the senior-most officer of the department. For eg: “To the Senior Police Inspector of station XYZ” and a signed copy must be taken. Also at the same time, be ready to have a dialogue with the police on aspects of how you plan to control the mob, and what help you require from them regarding the police bandobast during the protest so that no untoward incidents take place. The police may ask you to provide the above details in an affidavit.