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Mumbai Gag Order: Is Criticizing The State A Crime


Authored by Harsh Mangal


Keywords: Democracy, Mumbai Gag order, Police, Protests, Indian Constitution.


Abstract

Criticizing the government is one of the most important and needed factors in a democracy. In a democracy the government is for the people, and if its actions are against the people or are not beneficial to the people then actions like these must be criticized.

In the 21st century social media is the most important platform for general awareness, in forming a public opinion, and in showing dissent. The Gag order passed by the police of Mumbai restricts the citizens to criticize the actions of government over social media platforms like twitter, instagram, whatsapp, etc.

This article delves into the subject how criticizing the government is important for a democracy, and criminalizing it is against the fundamental rights of the citizens and is a step that is against the very idea of democracy.


Introduction

The Gag order, that restricts the public’s right to criticize the government over internet platforms was passed by the Mumbai police on 23rd May 2020, and came into effect on 25th may 2020.[1]


According to Mumbai police this order is to curb the spread of fake news and to punish the people who are involved in spreading misinformation, but an MLA of the opposition party, Mr. Mangal Prabhat Lodha, filed a petition before the Bombay High Court and contended that this order criminalizes the criticism of government which is against the democracy and is unconstitutional. [2]

In a democracy each and every citizen has the right to dissent or disagree. Protests against the unfair decisions of the government are a must to keep the democracy alive and healthy. Even it is the duty of the citizens to show their dissent in a healthy, and it is the duty of state to respect the point of view of every citizen to maintain the spirit of democracy. Punishing people for criticizing the government or state shows the arbitrariness of the state and authorities.


Right to Dissent In a Democracy

In a democracy there is a right to disagree or dissent for each and every citizen. In India a person becomes a voter only for one day in five years, but what is his/her role as a citizen once the government is elected? The role of the citizen is to raise questions if something is unfair, to question the government, to criticize the government and authorities if some actions are not justified.


In India, especially in past few years we have seen, that if a person shows dissent or disagrees with the government, then he/she is often labeled as an anti national element, this is not right for the democracy. If a person disrespects the government, that might be wrong but it does not mean that he/she is disrespecting the country. We have seen in past few years that criticism is not appreciated by the government much, as students protesting against the CAA were booked for sedition. Not only by citizens but criticism is not taken in a healthy way even inside a political party, in Rajasthan we have seen a split inside the congress party over criticism.


In India we have seen times when Pandit Jawaharlal Lal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, all of different ideologies in the same government as ministers [3] because they were considered to be best for handling their ministries. Then we have seen the time of press censorship during emergency in 1975, [4] which was seen as darkest era for the democracy. Criminalizing the act of criticism is not less worse then press censorship in 1975.

Showing dissent or disagreement by the way of criticizing the government or protesting against the government is a part of legacy for Indians, as we got independence by showing dissent to the policies of Britishers under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi in the form of civil disobedience movement [5] and non cooperation movement[6].

Dissent is the heart of democracy and hence the right to disagree should never be taken from the citizens of India.

Constitutionality of GAG Order

The GAG order passed by the Mumbai Police is against the fundamental rights of the citizens as criminalizing the act of criticizing the government is against the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to all the citizens under Article 19(1)(a)[7] of the Indian Constitution.


Supreme Court of India in the judgment of Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India[8], laid down that there should be a balance between the rights of the citizens and restrictions imposed on them. The present GAG order disregards the above judgment as this order will stop the citizens of Mumbai from criticizing the government even in a healthy way.

In a democracy like India if people are not free to criticize the unfair practices or to have an opinion of their own then it is a failure of the democracy, and hence GAG orders like these should be struck down.


Conclusion

Criticizing the government is very important for a democracy and hence it is not a crime, and any order criminalizing it is inconsistent with the law. India is a democratic country and it is necessary for a democratic government to take criticism in a healthy way. Criticism helps the government to improve their policies and to function in a better way and for the betterment of the citizens. The government of Maharashtra should acknowledge the voice of common man, and this step is clearly suppresses the voice of its citizens. India is not a police state and hence government should not take any step to suppress criticism.

Foot Notes:-

[1]https://www.scribd.com/document/463180132/Mumbai-prohibitory-orders-May-25#download&from_embed

[2]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/mla-challenges-mumbai-police-gag-order-as-unconstitutional-in-high-court/articleshow/76036818.cms [3] https://en.unionpedia.org/First_Nehru_ministry [4]https://www.mapsofindia.com/on-this-day/june-28th-1975-india-imposes-the-toughest-press-censorship-since-independence [5] https://www.mapsofindia.com/personalities/gandhi/civil-disobedience.html [6] https://www.britannica.com/event/noncooperation-movement [7] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1218090/ [8] 2020 SCC Online SC 25.

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