Calling Dissent Anti-national Strikes at Heart of Deliberative Democracy, Says Justice Chandrachud

The Supreme Court judge said that the silencing of dissent and the generation of fear in the minds of people go beyond the violation of personal liberties and a commitment to constitutional value.

Justice DY Chandrachud delivers a lecture in Ahmedabad. (ANI)

Ahmedabad: Calling dissent a “safety valve” of democracy, Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud on Saturday said that “blanket labeling” of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the “heart” of the country’s commitment to protect constitutional values and promote deliberative democracy.

Delivering a lecture here, Justice Chandrachud said use of state machinery to curb dissent instills fear, which violates the rule of law.

“The blanket labeling of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the heart of our commitment to protect constitutional values and the promotion of deliberative democracy,” he said.

Protecting dissent is but a reminder that while a democratically elected government offers us a legitimate tool for development and social coordination, they can never claim a monopoly over the values and identities that define our plural society, he said.

Justice Chandrachud was speaking on the topic “The Hues That Make India: From Plurality to Pluralism” as part of the 15th Justice PD Desai Memorial Lecture.

‘No individual can claim monopoly over idea of India’

The SC judge said India as a nation is not committed to just one language, one religion, one culture, or one assimilated race.

“No single individual or institution can claim a monopoly over the idea of India,” Justice D Y Chandrachud said, insisting that the country at present finds itself “in defence of its plural views and the multitude of its cultures”.

Later, as chief guest of the 10th convocation of the Gujarat National Law University (GNLU), the SC judge encouraged students to stand up not just to government but for those who cannot speak for themselves. He asked students to question and question often. “It is important to stand up and be dissenters. It is only through your power of expressing views and courage of stating contrary positions that you will make others stop and think,” he said.

Earlier, during his talk on the ‘Hues that make India’ organised by the Justice P D Desai Memorial Lecture Committee, Justice Chandrachud called on the audience to include communities that are pushed to the fringe of the mainstream for being minorities — based on their language, faith, culture or gender — and asserted that this was aimed for by the Constitution.

Speaking after Justice Chandrachud, SC senior advocate Dushyant Dave reminded the audience and judges present about the Karnataka police investigating schoolchildren for performing a play opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the “unfortunate incident” at a Bhuj hostel where girls were being kept in a basement because they were menstruating.

“We have these situations which are completely antithetical to constitutional beliefs and values. Why is it happening? Why is the judiciary sitting (quietly) watching them? I would request the judges to ponder upon them. These are something on which you can definitely speak. What we need is pluralism in action, not merely in thoughts,” he said.

“Employment of state machinery to curb dissent instills fear and creates a chilling atmosphere on free peace which violates the rule of law and distracts from the constitutional vision of pluralist society,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud’s comments came at a time when the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) has triggered massive protests in many parts of the country.

“The destruction of spaces for questioning and dissent destroys the basis of all growth — political, economic, cultural and social. In this sense, dissent is a safety valve of democracy,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud also stated that the silencing of dissent and the generation of fear in the minds of people go beyond the violation of personal liberties and a commitment to constitutional value.

Notably, Justice Chandrachud was part of a bench that had in January sought response of the Uttar Pradesh government on a plea seeking quashing of notices sent to alleged protesters by the district administration for recovering losses caused by damage to public properties during anti-CAA agitations in the state.

“The attack on dissent strikes at the heart of a dialogue-based democratic society and hence, a state is required to ensure that it deploys its machinery to protect the freedom of speech and expression within the bounds of the law, and dismantle any attempt to instill fear or curb free speech,” he opined.

Commitment to the protection of deliberative dialogue is an essential aspect of every democracy, particularly a successful one, Justice Chandrachud said.

He added, “A democracy welded to the ideal of reason and deliberation ensures that minority opinions are not strangulated and ensures that every outcome is not a result merely of numbers but of a shared consensus.”

Justice Chandrachud said the “true test” of a democracy is its ability to ensure the creation and protection of spaces where every individual can voice their opinion without the fear of retribution.

“Inherent in the liberal promise of the Constitution is a commitment to a plurality of opinion. A legitimate government committed to deliberate dialogue does not seek to restrict political contestation but welcomes it,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud underlined the importance of mutual respect and protection of space for divergent opinions.

“Taking democracy seriously requires us to respond respectfully to the intelligence of others and to participate vigorously, but as an equal in determining how we should live together,” the supreme court judge said.

Democracy is judged not just by the institutions that formally exist but by the extent to which different voices from diverse sections of the people can actually be heard, respected and accounted for, he said.

According to Justice Chandrachud, the “great threat to pluralism” is the suppression of differences and silencing of popular and unpopular voices offering alternative or opposing views.

“Suppression of intellect is the suppression of the conscience of the nation,” he said.