Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud on Saturday said “blanket labelling” of dissent as anti-national hurts the country’s commitment to protect Constitutional values, reported PTI. He added that dissent was a “safety valve” of democracy.

“The blanket labelling 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,” Justice Chandrachud said while delivering a lecture in Ahmedabad. He was speaking on the topic, ‘The Hues That Make India: From Plurality to Pluralism’, as part of the 15th Justice PD Desai Memorial Lecture.

Justice Chandrachud’s comments came at a time when there have been largescale protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens across the country. The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament on December 11, grants citizenship to people from six communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, if they have entered India by December 31, 2014. However, the Act excludes Muslims from its scope. Protests against the Act have led to 28 deaths so far.

Justice Chandrachud was part of a Supreme Court bench that had sought response of the Uttar Pradesh government on a plea seeking quashing of notices sent to alleged protesters for recovering losses caused by damage during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act agitations in the state.

On Saturday, he also criticised the use of state machinery to stifle voices of dissent. “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 added. “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 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,” he said. “A legitimate government committed to deliberate dialogue does not seek to restrict political contestation but welcomes it.”

He said that democracy is judged not just by the institutions that exist but by the extent to which different voices are heard, respected and accounted for. “Suppression of intellect is the suppression of the conscience or the nation,” he added.

‘No individual can claim a monopoly over the idea of India’

Justice Chandrachud said India’s pluralism underlines a commitment to protect “the very idea of India as a refuge to people of various states, races, languages and beliefs”. He added that no individual or single institution can claim a monopoly over the idea of India. “The framers of the Constitution rejected the notion of a Hindu India and a Muslim India. They recognised only the Republic of India,” he said.

He said the framers “shunned homogeneity and celebrated diversity” when they came up with the Constitution. “Homogeneity is not the defining feature of Indianness,” said the Supreme Court judge. “Our differences are not our weakness. Our ability to transcend these difference in our recognition of our shared humanity is a source of our strength.”