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Dissent And Its Legal Implications – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Dissent and its Legal Implications

Session Report
Krishti Khandelwal

LPPYF Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship is an Online National Summer School Program, a Two-Month Online Immersive Legal Awareness & Action Research Certificate Training Course and Internship Program, from June-August 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on “Dissent and its Legal Implications” was held by Adv Dr Shalu Nigam, Visiting Senior Fellow IMPRI; Advocate, Author, and Researcher, Gender and Human Rights.

She shed light on the often overlooked yet crucial concept of dissent and its legal implications. The session aimed to delve into the nuances of the right to disagree and its significance within a democratic framework.

The Essence of Dissent

Advocate Dr Shalu began by defining dissent as the act of expressing disagreement with public policies, laws, or even within the context of family dynamics. She shared a personal anecdote illustrating the emergence of a new trend where dissent is met with dismissive remarks like “go to Pakistan.” Drawing from historical figures like Rabindranath Tagore, who advocated free thought and expression, Dr Shalu underscored the importance of dissent as a foundation of democracy.

Legal Framework and Right to Disagree: Dr Shalu explored the legal dimensions of dissent, starting with the Constitution of India. She highlighted that the Preamble of the Constitution promises “Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship.” Article 19(1) enshrines the freedom of speech and expression, assembly, and association. These constitutional provisions form the backbone of citizens’ right to disagree and question government actions.

She emphasized that challenging, questioning, and demanding accountability from the government is a fundamental right of every citizen. This right is essential for a vibrant democracy, ensuring that the government remains accountable and responsive to the needs of the people.

Role of Dissent in Democracy: Advocate Dr Shalu emphasized that dissent plays a pivotal role in a functioning democracy. It involves discussing, disagreeing, and engaging in dialogue to reach a consensus. Dr Shalu highlighted various aspects of dissent:

  1. Political Dissent: In a democracy, political dissent is essential. It includes the right to criticize government policies, decisions, and laws. Dissent is a vital element of democracy, as it keeps the government in check and allows citizens to question and challenge actions that may infringe upon their rights.
  2. Collective Challenges: The right to peaceful assembly empowers citizens to collectively challenge government decisions and policies. Peaceful protests and discussions help raise public awareness and can influence the government to rectify its mistakes.
  3. Government Accountability: Dissent acts as a watchdog, ensuring that the government remains accountable for its actions. Public feedback through dissent can lead to policy corrections and more effective governance.

Legal Precedents and Dissent

Dr Shalu cited several landmark judgments by the Supreme Court of India that uphold the significance of dissent. She mentioned the cases of A.D.M. Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla, where Justice H.R. Khanna’s dissenting opinion championed individual rights even during the emergency. Another case was the Puttaswamy judgment, which affirmed that fundamental rights must be protected from government overreach.

Challenges and Suggestions

Dr Shalu acknowledged challenges in the implementation of the right to dissent, including draconian laws that curb freedom of expression. She highlighted the need to repeal such laws and suggested a more proactive judicial mechanism. Public inquiry systems like those in the UK were cited as potential solutions that integrate public grievances into policy-making.

Promoting Constructive Dialogue

 In an interactive segment, participants expressed their views on the death penalty. Views ranged from advocating for more constructive rehabilitation for criminals to challenging the ineptness of government and advocating against the death penalty. Dr Shalu encouraged participants to prepare and present their views in upcoming interactive sessions to facilitate a comprehensive discussion on contentious issues.

Conclusion

Advocate Dr Shalu’s session on the right to dissent shed light on the indispensable role that dissent plays in a democratic society. By exploring legal frameworks, historical contexts, and contemporary challenges, she underscored the importance of upholding citizens’ right to question, criticize, and engage in constructive dialogue. Dr Shalu’s insightful discussion called for proactive legal reforms and a culture that values diverse opinions, contributing to the growth and vitality of a democratic nation. 

The concluding remarks of the session were delivered by Professor Vibhuti Patel, who expressed appreciation for Dr Purnima Chauhan’s insightful contributions. Dr Chauhan’s presentations covered a range of topics, emphasizing the importance of citizen engagement, affirmative action, and the challenges of urban governance. Her stories of individuals breaking barriers and advocating for change underscored the potential for positive impact, regardless of one’s background.

The professor highlighted Dr. Chauhan’s analysis of the reservation policy and affirmative action, detailing the arguments both for and against these measures. The discussion also delved into the complexities of the caste system and its implications for social justice. The case of Payal Tadvi, who faced multiple layers of marginalization, was cited to illustrate the intersection of various marginalized identities.

Furthermore, the session included a presentation on dissent and its legal dimensions by Advocate Dr. Albertina Almeida. The importance of dissent in a democratic society was emphasized, with the session shedding light on historical instances and contemporary cases where dissent played a crucial role. Notable legal judgments were highlighted, showcasing how dissent can be protected and promoted within the legal framework.

Advocate Dr. Shalu Nigam’s presentation on the right to protest underscored its significance in democratic setups. The discussion touched upon various aspects of the right to protest, highlighting instances where citizens have used peaceful assembly to challenge government decisions and demand accountability.

In conclusion, the session reiterated the importance of citizen awareness and proactive involvement in shaping policy and legal discourse. The role of legal mechanisms in safeguarding dissent and promoting inclusive governance was underscored. The vote of thanks was extended to the experts, participants, and organizers for their contributions to the session. The participants were invited to the next session, which will focus on related legal and policy issues. The session ended with a call for continued engagement in the ongoing discussions on law and public policy.

Krishti is a Research Intern at IMPRI.

Youtube Video of Inaugural session for Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship Programme: https://youtu.be/fT0XLKGJ6LY

Read more session reports for Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship:

A Review of the Right to Information Act

Reflections on Urban Governance Practices

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