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Every Citizen has the Right to Dissent:: Vice President Hamid Ansari
September 25, 2015

Excerpts from Vice-president Hamid Ansari's First Ram Manohar Lohia Memorial Lecture at ITM University, Gwalior:  

"It has been observed with much justice that the history of progress of mankind is a history of informed dissent. This can take many forms ranging from conscientious objection to civil or revolutionary disobedience. In a democratic society, including ours, the need to accept difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of plurality. In that sense, the right of dissent also becomes the duty of dissent since tactics to suppress dissent tend to diminish the democratic essence. In a wider sense, the expression of dissent can and does play a role in preventing serious mistakes arising out of what has been called “social cascades” and “group polarization” which act as deterrent on free expression of views or sharing of information.   

Dissent as a right has been recognized by the Supreme Court of India as one aspect of the right of the freedom of speech guaranteed as a Fundamental Right by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. The court has observed that “the restrictions on the freedom of speech must be couched in the narrowest possible terms” and that the proviso of Article 19(2) is justiciable in the sense that the restrictions on it have to be ‘reasonable’ and cannot be arbitrary, excessive or disproportionate.

In the globalizing world of today and in most countries having a democratic fabric, the role of civil society in the articulation of dissent has been and continues to be comprehensively discussed; so does the question of its marginalization or suppression.

Despite the unambiguously stated position in law, civil society concerns about constraints on the right of dissent in actual practice have been articulated powerfully. “On the surface,” wrote one of our eminent academics some time back, “Indian democracy has a cacophony of voices. But if you scratch the surface, dissent in India labours under an immense maze of threats and interdictions.” Referring to the then new reporting requirements for NGOs, he said:

          “nothing is more fatal for disagreements and dissent than the idea that all of it can be reduced to hidden sub-texts or external agendas…The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves        you of taking their ideas seriously. Once we have impugned the source, we don’t have to pay attention to the contents of the claim…This has serious consequences for dissent.”

This was written in 2012. It is a moot point if, given the Pavlovian reflexes of the Leviathan, things would have changed for the better since then. Informed commentaries suggest the contrary.

Every citizen of the Republic has the right and the duty to judge. Herein lies the indispensability of dissent.”

Photo courtesy: PIB Mumbai

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