Opinion Based Blog

Blanket Labelling Dissent: Way to Escape Accountability


Author: Arya Pathak, 1st year student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. 

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.” These have been the inspirational words from Benjamin Franklin and similar thoughts have been witnessed from many scholars. There has been a time when dissidents, when struggled against oppressive political regimes, were celebrated as heroes. Every citizen of a country, in some way or other is affected and abides by the political, social or financial forces and the decisions often taken by the lawmakers or the ones who enforce it and hence, to ask for accountability is the least, a citizen can expect in a democracy.

“To question, to challenge, to verify, to ask for accountability from the government is the right of every citizen under the constitution. These rights should never be taken away otherwise we will become an unquestioning moribund society, which will not be able to develop any further”, said Justice Deepak Gupta at an event organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association. The freedoms mentioned in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution are the vehicles through which dissent can be expressed. The right to freedom of opinion, in itself contains right to disagree. For a society to grow, discussions and disagreement should not just be allowed but encouraged. Dissent is indeed a quintessential part of a democracy and allows people to have their opinions and voice them without fear of intimidation. The philosophy of Dissent itself was the very initial factor that inspired our freedom movement. However, Dissent in present times is all too often seen as dangerous force that undermines stability, order and rule of law.

It has been observed since past experiences and even from the present scenarios that Indian Governments at both the national and states level do not always share the values of accountability, pass laws and often take harsh actions to criminalize peaceful expression. The government has been witnessed many times, using draconian measures such as the sedition provisions of the Penal code, criminal defamation laws in order to silent dissent. Such laws which are vaguely defined or the ones having broad scopes are prone to misuse and have been reportedly used for political purposes.

This has been the scenario not just in the present times but since years. Imposing her authoritarian will on the polity after claiming that India needed the “shock treatment”, our first female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi kept little patience for defiance, despite her unprecedented authority, evident from the way she declared a state of Emergency just after a court found her guilty of electoral malpractice during the 1971 election to which she reacted by giving the police free hand in arresting, intimidating and torturing political opponents. Use of preventive detentions laws to sheath the authoritarian regimes has been ever visible during her prime minister-ship.
However an entrenched culture of dissent in India is hard to stamp down. No matter how authoritarian a regime can be, dissent can never be suppressed.

“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent… The greatest danger to liberty lies in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but lacking in due deference for the rule of law -HR Khanna
For the first time in the history of the Supreme Court of India, a senior-most judge was not appointed as the Chief Justice of India, his dissenting opinion in the ADM Jabalpur case during the time of emergency became the reason. However his dissent in the aforementioned case gave him something more, his fearless dissent at such times made him immortal and earned him respect not just in India but throughout the world.

Suppression of dissent has been visible since years by almost every government in some way or other, sometimes in a harsher way and sometimes less severely. However what has been evident in the present scenario is the wrong depiction of Dissent as a criminal activity. India as a nation, committed to Pluralism , does not just comprise of one language, identity or culture. No single individual or institution can claim monopoly over its idea, not even the ruling party in a majority. In the words of Justice D.Y Chandrachud, “labeling dissent as anti-national strikes at the heart of the country’s commitment to protect constitutional values.” Opposition has the right to question as well as dissent until and unless peaceful means are adopted. There have been several questions raised by people in the recent times, towards which the government must be accountable be it the appointment of Judicial officers at the Political positions or the questions raised on the recent bills passed by the government. Disappointingly all that has been witnessed is the blanket labeling of dissent using terms like Urban Naxals for the academicians who have a left-leaning outlook, manipulated, anti-nationals for the ones protesting against the CAA etc. instead of justifications and accountability. Activists have been held in preventive detentions who speak out against violations of rights. However this is something which can be witnessed every now and then in the present times and no doubt it is high time that the national as well as the respective states governments start acknowledging and addressing real issues of instead of simply labeling dissent and escaping their responsibilities towards citizens. If the institutions act in consonance with the constitution, there would not be any need to suppress dissent. It is only when the civil and basic rights are violated, people are forced to voice their opinions and oppose the actions to which each government is answerable. Locking each dissenting opinion and person in a category to ignore them and questioning the authenticity of opposition to simply refuse meaningful discussions is the worst that can be done to escape accountability.

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Ashish singh
Ashish singh
10 months ago

Great work !!

Vinod Nayak
Vinod Nayak
10 months ago

Very well articulated

Priyanka
Priyanka
10 months ago

Well said

Neera Sharma
Neera Sharma
10 months ago

This article is very knowledgeable for everyone..

Pinky sharma
Pinky sharma
10 months ago

Well expressed

Kunal Yadav
Kunal Yadav
9 months ago

This is very informative and appropriate in the current time. Those opinions and example highlight the issue perfectly. 🙌

Rita pathak
Rita pathak
9 months ago

Nice article for current situation