Javed Ahmad Hajam vs State of Maharashtra 2024 INSC 187 :: [2024] 3 S.C.R. 317 – Fundamental Right To Protest/Dissent

Constitution Of India, 1950 ; Article 19(1)(a) – The right to dissent in a legitimate and lawful manner is an integral part of the rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a). Every individual must respect the right of others to dissent. An opportunity to peacefully protest against the decisions of the Government is an essential part of democracy. The right to dissent in a lawful manner must be treated as a part of the right to lead a dignified and meaningful life guaranteed by Article 21. But the protest or dissent must be within four corners of the modes permissible in a democratic set-up. It is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed in accordance with clause (2) of Article 19. (Para 10)

Indian Penal Code, 1860; Section 153-A –The promotion of disharmony, enmity, hatred or ill will must be on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste, community or any other analogous grounds – The test to be applied is not the effect of the words on some individuals with weak minds or who see a danger in every hostile point of view. The test is of the general impact of the utterances on reasonable people who are significant in numbers. Merely because a few individuals may develop hatred or ill will, it will not be sufficient to attract clause (a) of sub-section (1) of Section 153-A of the IPC. (Para 8,11) -[ Accused Appellant shared WhatsApp status of photograph of two barbed wires, below which it is mentioned that “AUGUST 5 – BLACK DAY – JAMMU & KASHMIR”, SC observed: This is an expression of his individual view and his reaction to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India. It does not reflect any intention to do something which is prohibited under Section 153-A. At best, it is a protest, which is a part of his freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a). Every citizen of India has a right to be critical of the action of abrogation of Article 370 and the change of status of Jammu and Kashmir. Describing the day the abrogation happened as a “Black Day” is an expression of protest and anguish- The appellant has posted that “Article 370 was abrogated, we are not happy”- Appellant intended to criticise the action of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India. He has expressed unhappiness over the said act of abrogation. The aforesaid words do not refer to any religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community. It is a simple protest by the appellant against the decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution of India and the further steps taken based on that decision. The Constitution of India, under Article 19(1)(a), guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Under the said guarantee, every citizen has the right to offer criticism of the action of abrogation of Article 370 or, for that matter, every decision of the State. He has the right to say he is unhappy with any decision of the State- Appellant shared the picture containing “Chand” and below that the words “14th August–Happy Independence Day Pakistan”- It will not attract clause (a) of subsection (1) of Section 153-A of the IPC. Every citizen has the right to extend good wishes to the citizens of the other countries on their respective independence days. If a citizen of India extends good wishes to the citizens of Pakistan on 14th August, which is their Independence Day, there is nothing wrong with it. It’s a gesture of goodwill. In such a case, it cannot be said that such acts will tend to create disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious groups. Motives cannot be attributed to the appellant only because he belongs to a particular religion.]

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