A day after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi got a clean chit on allegations of sexual harassment against him, a group of young women and some men held protests, raising objections to the way in which the case was handled. They gathered outside the apex court carrying placards such as “Supremacy of Rule of law must be maintained" and “Be you ever so high, the law is above you."

What followed was another disaster in the series of disasters that have hit us ever since the allegations became public. Section 144 was imposed and protesting women were detained. At this point, it might be a good idea to remind ourselves that a distinguishing feature of any democracy is the space allowed for legitimate dissent. The Indian citizen has a right to raise his or her voice and express anger at the decisions and actions of the government or any of its institutions. And in turn, the State and all its organs have to respect such an exercise of rights. This is especially so of the judiciary, which is duty-bound to uphold constitutional principles.

This muzzling of voices and curbing of dissent is only going to push citizens of this country to the wall. If people’s confidence in democratic institutions weakens, democracy itself would weaken. To forestall such dangers, there should be a clear acknowledgement of basics by the judicial establishment: Even if the accused is the highest arbiter of justice, no one is above the law. It is bad enough that the apex court’s idea of “due process’ in this case was at significant variance with what citizens expected (and ought to have). The iron fist approach to dissent makes it worse.

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