By: Ningombam Bupenda Meitei
Supreme Court judgment on Ramlila Maidan incident case
“In the Hon’ble Supreme Court judgment of Suo Motu Writ Petition (Crl.) No. 122 Of 2011 – In Re: Ramlila Maidan Incident Dt.4/5.06.2011 V. Home Secretary, Union Of India & Ors, the Court has upheld the right to peaceful protest as a constitutional right. The Court observes: “Freedom of speech, right to assemble and demonstrate by holding dharnas and peaceful agitation are the basic features of a democratic system. The people of a democratic country like ours have a right to raise their voice against the decisions and actions of the Government or even to express their resentment over the actions of the government on any subject of social or national importance. The Government has to respect, and in fact, encourage exercise of such rights. It is the abundant duty of the State to aid the exercise of right to freedom of speech as understood in its comprehensive sense and not to throttle or frustrate exercise of such rights by exercising its executive or legislative powers and passing orders or taking action in that direction in the name of reasonable restrictions.” It was also written in an article – ‘Can The State Restrict A Citizen’s Right To Protest?’ – by Arun Jaitley, who today is Union Finance Minister of India, in Outlook India, dated 28th February, 2012.”
The argument is, according to the judgment of the Court, it observes that “it is the abundant duty of the State not to throttle or frustrate exercise of such rights by exercising its executive or legislative powers and passing orders or taking action in that direction in the name of reasonable restrictions.” But, what the State Government of Manipur, through its Home Department, has done is precisely to act in a direction using the shield of reasonable restrictions to throttle and frustrate the exercise of the rights of the people who were exercising freedom of speech, right to assemble and demonstrate by holding dharnas – which indeed are the basic features of a democratic system. The Court has not even restricted such rights to “citizens” of the country but has expanded it to “people” of this democratic country. In the case of Manipur, the school students, who are juveniles, are also citizens of the country and therefore, they have every right to exercise all the rights of any citizen of India, as enshrined in the Constitution of India. The Court, in its judgment, also observes that “the Government has to respect, and in fact, encourage exercise of such rights. It is the abundant duty of the State to aid the exercise of right to freedom of speech as understood in its comprehensive sense.” Has the Government of Manipur – by using police’s water cannon and police arrest of the two school students, who were also exercising their rights as citizens of this country – shown any form of respect or encouragement to the exercise of such rights of the school students? Has the Government of Manipur taken into account the meanings and boundary of the word “comprehensive sense” in identifying the issues, which according to the Government of Manipur could be an issue of law and order only, so that instead of having a dissected and myopic view of the issue the Government of Manipur could very well honour the intent of “comprehensive sense” being mentioned in the Apex Court judgment?
If the abundant duty of the State of Manipur is to aid the powers of the state police to aid in curbing the exercise of right to freedom of speech so that the control and stability of law and order in Manipur is to be given utmost primacy, then that very act of the State Government of Manipur goes against the judgment of the Court and also shows that the Government of Manipur is still yet to fully understand and implement the “comprehensive sense” mentioned in the judgment. Then, there is a question – “Why do school students come out to protest?” The reply to this is also given in the Court judgment. The school students, who are not only juveniles and citizens but also are the people of this democratic country, according to the judgment, have “a right to raise their voice… to express their resentment over the actions of the government on any subject of social or national importance.” The argument is – “Was the resentment nationally important?” The reply to this argument is: even if the resentment expressed by the school students is not of national importance, the resentment is deeply imbedded with social importance. The argument to posit that their resentment is nationally important could also be established as they – the school students – are worried about the future of their own home state Manipur, and if the future of Manipur, which is very much a part of India, is in a potentially worrying situation, as it could be according to them, then the future of India, which comprises Manipur too, is also not impossible to be considered as free from any future worry and tension, and therefore, the national importance of their resentment is also difficult to be ruled out because the future of India also lies in the future of Manipur. Even if the “national importance” fails to impress the argument, there is “social importance” as the judgment observes “social or national importance” and not “social and national importance”, therefore by using the operational part of “or”, there is an option to choose either “social importance” or “national importance”. Had there been “and” instead of “or”, the argument could have been different, but since there is “or” the function of “or” allows the argument of “social importance” to bring forth to justify the resentment of the school students. It would be extremely complex to reject the “social importance” in this case. The other question is – “Why are the school students, instead of studying books and learning in their classrooms, participating in dharnas?” The reply to this is also found in the judgment as it says that holding dharnas is one of the basic features of a democratic system. Nowhere in a democracy there is a legally approved and constitutionally accepted statement stating that school students are debarred from holding or participating in dharnas. Has the Parliament enacted Code of Conduct for the school students with regard to dharnas and peaceful demonstrations? Not yet, so far. The question to be raised against the State of Manipur is – “Where is the criminality committed by the school students in holding dharnas in a democratic system of India’s Manipur?” From these aforementioned arguments, the act of Manipur Government, through its police action of using water cannon and the police arrest of two school students, amounts to the dishonour and rejection of the Apex Court judgment, and therefore, both the police action and arrest shall be declared as illegal because the State of Manipur has miserably failed to uphold the judgment, passed on 23rd February, 2012 by the Supreme Court, even in 2016.