Open Letter to The Chief Justice of India

We hereby reproduce an open letter of the CASR to the Chief Justice of India, Chandrachud:

To D.Y. Chandrachud,

The Chief Justice of India,

Supreme Court of India

2nd January 2024

Dear Justice Chandrachud,

We write this letter to you as a members of democratic-minded civil society and activists who are working on issues concerning democratic ethos of the people and the protection of their civic, democratic, and constitutional rights. We write this letter to you as an appeal, as well as a query regarding people’s right to freedom of speech and expression, a right that has been fought hard to achieve by our great people and forbearers and is also protected under the constitution. This right, along with the overall democratic rights of our people, some of them guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, are seeing an overall deterioration that alarms us.

Recently, a concerning trend of cancelling permissions for any programme focused on any social critique has emerged, along with the banning of peaceful protest gatherings and public meetings on various issues concerning democratic and Constitutional right of the people. The most recent case occurred on 10th December 2023, when the world celebrated the 75th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “Human Rights Day.” The Parliament Street Police Station chose to deny the permission for a gathering to mark this occasion and discuss the event, less than 14 hours before the event even though the permission for the same was sought for 12 days prior on 28th November. The organizers of the gathering, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of 40 democratic progressive organizations, was informed about cancellation of the permission with less than 24 hours’ notice, on 9th December at around 9:15 pm. It is pertinent to mention that this is not the first time that police has resorted to such measures. On 15th March of this year, the same organizers were holding an indoor public discussion on “Media Blackout in Kashmir” to discuss suppression of free press, freedom of speech and expression, and the attack on journalists in Kashmir. Police cancelled the permission of the event with a 2 hours’ notice and barricaded the Gandhi Peace Foundation (GPF) venue at ITO, despite the fact that the event was to be addressed by Justice Hussain Masoodi, retired from the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, along with former legislators, renowned democratic rights activists and academics. Furthermore, a similar event by the name of “Bharat Bachao National Convention” held at HKS Surjeet Bhawan in New Delhi had to seek permission from the Delhi High Court after the Delhi police cancelled its permission and coerced the venue administration to cancel the bookings in March, 2023. Police permission of all these events and many more events/gatherings have been cancelled on grounds of vague arguments of “law & order/security.”

French philosopher and democrat, Jean-Jacques Rousseau proclaimed, “to renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights [and duties] of humanity.” Even the Hon’ble Supreme Court itself has stated that “citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest which cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action,” in Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union of India 2012. Yet, the practices of the Delhi Police continue to push in the direction where democratic spaces are curtailed with impunity and the notions of liberties and dissent are attacked. When CASR sought permission for its gathering at Jantar Mantar, one of the historic spots of democratic gatherings for Indian democracy on 10th December, it was denied. When CASR-affiliated organizations chose to protest against this arbitrary action and mockery of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the protestors were attacked by police and the BSF, with horrifying scenes of police personnel openly threatening to fire on women and LGBT activists in front of the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Lok Sabha in session! In front of the residence of the head of state of the Republic of India, the President herself, a student of journalism from Delhi University was separated from the protestors, brutally beaten by the police and was missing while in police detention for 7 hours, with no one aware of his whereabouts, for no actionable cause. When peaceful gatherings for civil discourse are sought at private venues, the police barricade the events and threatens the venue owners. When peaceful gatherings for democratic rights are sought at public spaces designated for such activities like Jantar Mantar, the permits are cancelled strategically at night to ensure no alternative is found. When these actions are protested by the people, we are assaulted, beaten with the butts of guns, detained, abducted and even threatened with our lives.  After all this, the women and LGBT persons who participated in the protests and gave their own contact details to the police received phone calls at their residences, not at the contacts they gave but directly to their families. Their family members were told by police officers to discourage their daughters from participating in protests and the police resorted to using patriarchy against adults to silence dissent.

Dear sir, you once said, “dissent is the safety valve of democracy” and have reiterated the need of democratic ethos. Yet, space for dissent is disappearing right in front of our eyes, to the point that we are seeing a cornering of people’s space for any democratic discourse and dissent. Dr. Ambedkar, in his famous address to the Constituent Assembly of India on 25th November 1949 said, “when there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods.” When dissent is curtailed to such an extent where constitutional methods are robbed from the people, will the safety valve not break and lead to the protest that occurred on 13th December 2023 by Neelam Azad, Amol Shinde, Manoranjan D, Sagar Sharma, Lalit Jha and Vishal Sharma? In light of such developments, curtailment of a constitutionally-sound protest mere 3 days prior, how is it that their protest is reduced to a concern of ‘security breach’ and draconian ‘anti-terror’ law like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 are utilized against them?

The recent events themselves are part of a larger chain of affairs that are creating the realization that space for democratic dissent does not exist in India. From the arresting of Delhi University’s Dr. G.N. Saibaba in 2016, the mass arrests in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case of democratic rights activists in 2018, the snapping of internet and phone connectivity in Kashmir in 2019 to initiate the longest internet shutdown in any country claiming to be a democracy, the arresting of prominent journalists from Kashmir and rest of India under anti-state charges, the mass arrests of democratic activists of the anti-CAA protests during the COVID-19 lockdown along with the glorification of the bulldozering of their homes to the present, a grim picture is painted for the people of India regarding democratic rights. Even when some of the most oppressed and exploited sections of the country, the Adivasis of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra etc., engaged in prolonged peaceful mass movements against mining-based displacement and rapid militarization of their lands, the people are met with fake encounters, abductions and uprooting of their homes for exercising their democratic rights, demanding fair Gram Sabhas and the implementation of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996. In Silger, Chhattisgarh, the youth and the women conducted one of the longest sit-in protests where thousands of Adivasis of Bastar gathered to protest the police open-firing on Adivasis for opposing rapacious mining and militarization of their homes. From Srinagar to Silger, all democratic dissent is attacked with varied degrees of violence and branded with the tag of Maoists and separatists. Journalists arrested, a people being violently displaced for the sake of corporate interests, internet shutdown bringing life back to the dark ages, academics in jail and retired judges forbidden from speaking in the country’s capital, where is the safety valve for democracy?

We would like to draw your attention to this alarming situation. If a retired High Court judge and former legislators are not allowed to speak in a conference, if people are not allowed to gather and protest peacefully even at places like Jantar Mantar, one could only wonder, what right to freedom of Speech and Expression do the poor people from far away regions of the country have. We would like to know whether a blanket and sweeping powers can be granted to police and administrative bodies to cancel permissions without any reasonable justification expect other than a vague and an undefined term such as “law and order”. Have the constitutional guarantees been so broken and weakened that a mere two-line order citing three-word reason can stifle our rights guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution? Do the oppressed and exploited not have the right to defend their liberty? Are we not humans? Or is it that India, claiming to be the world’s largest democracy, not a signatory to United Nations Declaration of Human Rights? We want to remind you and your fellow members of the judiciary of the words of John Rawls, a jurist you will surely remember from your days of legal education. “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought….. Laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust…… for this reason, justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others….. therefore, in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.”

These are some of many questions that are affecting us and various sections of the country. If the people are not allowed to raise their concerns, their disagreement and their views, how are we supposed to grow into a more democratic society and progress? If people are stopped from peaceful protests, what is to come next and towards which trajectory are we heading. Suppression of freedom of expression of the people and democracy are not coherent and one shall be the end of the other. Going by the words of our great martyr and freedom fighter Bhagat Singh “the sanctity of a law can only be maintained as long as it is the reflection of the will of the people” and these unjust and arbitrary orders are not one.

Therefore, we appeal you to take this matter into suo moto cognizance, to defend the democratic rights and spaces of people, to uphold the liberty and dispel justice by preserving the rights and freedom of the Indian people, including the right to dissent, to express freely. We hope that some positive steps will be taken by the Supreme Court of India to direct the police and administrative bodies to stop stifling dissent in the name of “law and order”.

Thanking you


  1. Deepak Kumar, Political Activist, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR)
  2. G. Haragopal, Retd. Professor from Hyderabad University and Activist, Telangana Civil Liberties Commission
  3. S.R. Darapuri, Retd. IPS Officer, All India People’s Front
  4. Manoranjan Mohanty, Retd. Professor, Delhi University
  5. Nandita Narain, Associate Professor, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University
  6. N.D. Pancholi, Advocate, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
  7. Shamsul Islam, Author and Retd. Faculty, Delhi University
  8. AS Vasantha Kumari, Activist
  9. John Dayal, Author and Human Rights Activist
  10. Seema Azad, Human Rights Activist, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
  11. Safoora Zargar, Researcher
  12. Karen Gabriel, Professor, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University
  13. Dr. Pramod Kumar Bagde, Faculty, Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi
  14. Prem Kumar Vijayan, Faculty, Hindu College, Delhi University
  15. K. Muralidharan, Author
  16. Wahid Shaikh, Teacher, Innocence Network
  17. Asish Gupta, Journalist
  18. Manish Azad, Political Activist
  19. Amita Sheereen, Author and Translator
  20. Ira Raja, Faculty, Delhi University
  21. Ashutosh Kumar, Faculty, Delhi University
  22. Tushar Kanti, Journalist, Author and Translator
  23. Atikur Rahman, Activist
  24. Jagmohan Singh, Teacher, All India Forum For Right to Education (AIFRTE)
  25. K.R. Ravi Chander, Activist, Forum Against State Repression
  26. Roop Rekha Verma, Retired Professor
  27. Prabhakaran Hebbar Illath, Professor, University of Calicut
  28. Lanu Longkumer, Faculty, Nagaland University
  29. Preethi Krishnan, Faculty, O.P. Jindal Global University
  30. M.R. Nandan, Retired Teacher, Founding Member, Karnataka Physics Association
  31. Arun, Retd. Lecturer, VIRASAM (Revolutionary Writers’ Association)
  32. Dr. SG Vombatkere, Engineer, National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM)
  33. Gopalji Pradhan, Teacher, Democratic Teachers Initiative
  34. Joseph Victor Edwin, Teacher
  35. G. Rosanna, Rayalseema Vidyavanthula Vedika
  36. Susan John Puthusseril, SIVY ( Society for the Inculcation of Values in Youth)
  37. Dr. D.M Diwakar, DRI Jalsain
  38. Neeraj Malik, Faculty, Delhi University
  39. Kranthi Chaitanya, Advocate, Civil Liberties Committee
  40. Siddhanth Raj, Lawyer and Trade Unionist, IFTU (Sarwahara)
  41. Kanwaljeet Khanna, General Secretary, Inqlabi Kendra Punjab
  42. Aga Syed Muntazir Mehdi, Advocate
  43. Julius Tudu, Advocate, Legal Cell for Human Rights Guwahati
  44. Thomas Pallithanam, Advocate, People’s Action for Rural Awakening
  45. Vikas Attri, Advocate, Progressive Lawyers Association
  46. Lovepreet Kaur, Advocate
  47. Buta Singh, Writer, Translator and Journalist, Association for Democratic Rights
  48. Bajrang Bihari, Writer, Janvadi Lekhak Singh
  49. Shalu Nigam, Lawyer and Independent Researcher
  50. Padma Kondiparthi, Advocate
  51. Feroze Mithiborwala, Freelance Writer, Bharat Bachao Andolan
  52. C.K.Theivammal, Advocate
  53. Navjot Kaur, Advocate
  54. Ravinder Singh, Advocate
  55. Vibha Wahi, Social Activist, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA)
  56. Himanshu Kumar, Human Rights Activist, VCA Dantewada
  57. Sukoon, Writer
  58. Arjun Prasad Singh, Social-Political Activist, Democratic People’s Forum
  59. Kanwarjit Singh, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahaan)
  60. S.P. Udayakumar, Social worker, Green Tamil Nadu Party
  61. Sumeet Singh, Tarksheel Society Punjab
  62. Thomas Franco, Social Activist, People First
  63. Sharanya Nayak, Social Activist, Independent Consultant
  64. Shabnam Hashmi, Social Activist, Anhad
  65. Sudha, Therapist and Trainer, CNVC
  66. Neelima Sharma, Theatre, Nishant Natya Manch
  67. Lal Prakash Rahi, Social Work, Disha Foundation
  68. Shakeel Ahmad, Scholar, Benaras Hindu University Varanasi
  69. Navneet Singh, Research Scholar, Delhi University
  70. Pritpal Singh, Rights Activist, Association for Democratic Rights
  71. Nihar, Farmer, All India Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (AIKMS)
  72. Rajeev Yadav, Activist, Rihai Manch
  73. Abhijit Dasgupta, Activist
  74. Dr. Anil Kumar Roy, Activist
  75. Ramsharan Joshi, Journalist
  76. Sumar Raj R, Retired Business Person, Nishant Natya Manch
  77. Nagargere Ramesh, Karnataka Janashakti
  78. Ramesh Shivamogga, Akila Karnataka vicharavadi Trust Bengaluru
  79. Muniza Khan, Researcher, Gandhian Institute of Studies
  80. Dr. Joseph Xavier, Researcher, IDEAS Mumbai
  81. Dr. Vikash Sharma, Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) Delhi
  82. G. Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, Retd. Office Superintendent, BSNL Kurnool, Honorary District President, BSNL Employees Union, Kurnool & Co Convenor, Rayalaseema Vidyavanthula Vedika
  83. K.C.Venkateswarlu, Pensioner, Palamuru Adhyayana Vedika
  84. Sandeep Kumar, Poet
  85. Aflatoon, Samajwadi Jan Parishad
  86. Vinod Kumar Singh, Independent Researcher
  87. Snehashish Chhaterjee, Healthcare Worker
  88. Mahnoor, Drama Therapist
  89. Kaushik Tadvi, Artist
  90. Frazer Mascarenhas, Academic Administrator
  91. Pravith, Software Developer
  92. Sushil Benjamin, Serviceman
  93. Amar PM, Software Engineer
  94. Sudarshan Ramiengar, Self Employed Engineer
  95. Suresh Joshi, Serviceman
  96. Ramchandra, Student Activist, Inqalabi Chhatra Morcha (ICM)
  97. Baadal, Student, Bhagat Singh Chatra Ekta Manch (bsCEM)
  98. Najih Ettiyakath, Student, DISSC
  99. Mukundan M Nair, Student, Sangharsh Democratic Students’ Collective
  100. Ajay, Student, bsCEM
  101. Richa, Student
  102. Sumanth, , Student
  103. Avanti , Student, bsCEM
  104. Eksimar Singh, Student, Delhi University
  105. Rifah Luqman, Student
  106. Japneet Kaur, Student
  107. Sneha Dwivedi, Student
  108. AWM, Student
  109. Swapnendu Chakraborty, Student, Revolutionary Students’ Front (RSF)
  110. Shree Pal, Student, RSF
  111. Abhinash Satapathy, Student
  112. Sumaiya Fatima, Student
  113. Arya, Student
  114. Nishka, Student
  115. Indranuj Ray, Student, RSF
  116. Anirban Chakraborty, Student, RSF
  117. Ankitaa Bal, Student, Calcutta University
  118. Affan Alig, Student, bsCEM
  119. Vallika, Student, Nazariya Magazine
  120. Aishwarya, Student, BSJAY
  121. Priyanshu, Medical Student
  122. Parthipan, Student
  123. Madhuri
  124. Archita Sharma
  125. Asha S Babu
  126. Raghav
  127. Astha
  128. Ahlaam Rafiq
  129. Ramnit
  130. Ava Schneider
  131. Azad
  132. Dhir Pratap
  133. S.V. Raman
  134. Prateek
  135. Thomas Kavalakatt
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