“Dissent is a safety valve of democracy”: Supreme Court

Dissent is inherently an integral part of our democracy rather it would be more apt to say that dissent is also a reason why democracy prevails.


Amidst the chaos around the arrest of five lawyers-right activists, the Indian Supreme Court emerged as the voice of sanity on Wednesday. Hearing the petitions moved against the arbitrary arrests of these activists, the Supreme Court justice DY Chandrachud reminded the entire nation, “dissent is the safety valve of democracy and if it is not allowed, the pressure cooker will burst”. As a country that takes pride in being the largest democracy of the world, this should come as a rebuke to be etched forever in our minds.

In a simultaneous multi-city raid conducted on Tuesday, the Pune Police arrested five civil liberties advocates and activists– Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navalakha and P Varavara Rao. While these arrests received some support from some people, many accused the government of using state machinery to quell the voices of critics of the government.


The strikingly grim reality of today’s India is that dissent towards the government or even towards a particular ideology is treated as contempt. It is looked down as a criminal activity on the verge of destroying the nation. Whoever dissents, criticises the govt. or an ideology is quickly branded as an Anti-national. The SC judgement yesterday is a whip to all of us reminding why dissent is important in a democracy.

Dissent is inherently an integral part of our democracy rather it would be more apt to say that dissent is also a reason why democracy prevails. The much-misunderstood interpretation of any kind of dissent today is that it is against anything and everything that the government does with the aim to harm it politically. But irrespective of political motives involved or not the dissent must be treated as an active process of holding a mirror to the authorities, in a modern context- the governments.

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The beauty of democracy is that it has a power to host differing views, minus the victimization. The democracies around the world derive their strengths from this. A country is truly democratic when an individual is free to express his views, free to criticize having reasonable restriction without fear of being punished for his/her thoughts, opinion and ideologies. When these qualities are mulled over, we enter the era of the authoritarian state where the state controls what people can say and what they cannot. In the 70 years since independence, Indian democracy has seen the authoritarian regime during Emergency. But it also stands as a witness how the regime was defeated in the subsequent elections after the emergency was withdrawn. It was an important phase in India’s experiment with democracy that taught us to value the dissent and varied opinions of citizens.

Today, though we are way past the emergency era, we are yet to come to a stage where dissent is treated as positive and constructive criticism. We need not curb it but incorporate it. Until we achieve this stage, we must carve in our collective memories the golden words by Supreme Court, “Dissent is a safety valve of democracy. Without dissent, the democracy will explode.”

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