Supreme Court judge Deepak Gupta has said "quelling or discouraging dissent" has a chilling effect on democracy, and the government has no right to stifle a protest unless it turns violent. Justice Gupta further said governments cannot always be right. Calling "majoritarianism the anti-thesis to democracy", he expressed concern over branding dissenters as "anti-national".
The remarks come amid protests in several parts of the country against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, National Population Register and National Register of Citizens.
"If we quell or discourage dissent, it has a chilling effect on democracy. The government is not always correct. We all make mistakes. The government has no right to stifle a protest unless it is turning violent," Justice Gupta said while delivering a lecture on "Dissent and Democracy" in the national capital.
"If some party gets 51% votes, does that mean the other 49% should not speak for 5 years...every citizen has a role to play in democracy...governments are not always right," he added.
Justice Gupta said having a "contrarian view" does not mean disrespect to the country. He said there will be dissent whenever there is a clash of ideas, and the right to question is an "inherent part of democracy".
"Today in the country, dissent is seen as anti-national. Government and country are two different things. I see bar associations passing resolutions saying they will not appear as some matter is anti-national. This is not done. You cannot deny legal aid," he said.
Justice Gupta said a society will not develop until rules are questioned.
"If all follow the well trodden path there will be no expansion of mind and vistas. Take Gandhi, Marx, Mohammad, everyone challenged old thoughts," he said.
He is the second Supreme Court judge this month who has expressed concern over the stifling of dissent. Last week, Justice DY Chandrachud had described dissent as democracy's "safety valve", and said branding those who dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic "strikes at the heart of our commitment to protect constitutional values".