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Right To Dissent- The Key Tenet of Democracy

Posted: November 17, 2020

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

 – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Let’s imagine a world where we only agreed with one another, especially with the ones in power and what is perpetuated by them?

Such a peaceful world it would be, do you agree?
Yes? No?

Dissent is to disagree or hold an opposing view. This one word holds in itself so much turmoil or at least so it seems on the surface. Dissent has always been looked at as a starting point for impending chaos. We have been conditioned to fear chaos, so when we see the façade of calm falling, we start to panic.

If we are to learn anything from history, it would to recognize what dissent, especially the righteous ones, have done for our world.

Chaos. Disorder.

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Photo by Frank Cone

If you ask a physics aficionado about chaos, he or she might tell you that ‘the natural tendency of any isolated system is to degenerate into a more disordered state’.

I, like many others, have a philosophical take on this. To me an isolated system in real world means a system that doesn’t allow free flow of ideas and opinions– one that censors truth–and when that happens, the energy surges from within that seems like chaos but it is only a prelude to a necessary change.

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Photo by Element5 Digital

The etymology of the word ‘Democracy’ or dēmokratiā tells us about the early origins of the idea of democracy going all the way back to 5th century BCE. Democracy literally means rule of people as ‘demos’ means people and ‘kratos’ means rule.

Democracy started as direct democracy where people gathered and voted to take everyday decisions when a need arose. But that form of governance was feasible till the population was small. Hence, when human population increased, it led to Representative Democracy that we see and have today under which people vote to elect their representatives who would take decisions for them on their behalves.

Such a utopian idea it is to think that our representatives with so much power will always have our best interests in their hearts and not their own when taking a big decision. But we know that’s not true because many leaderships of 20th and 21st centuries have proved us wrong time and time again.

SO, WHAT THEN?

Well the beauty of democracy is that it allows us choice to choose and re-choose after a specific period of time. But then we may ask that what if we choose wrong and the representative can do irreversible damage till his or her time is up.

And that’s exactly why our founding fathers enabled the people with the Right to Dissent respectfully and that’s why we have ‘autonomous bodies’ in the government that maintain checks and balances. These bodies ensure that our right as citizens to disagree, question and ask for accountability from the people in power remains untethered.

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Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com

So, why are we being told now that dissent is undemocratic?

NOT RIGHT TO DISSENT?

Dissent allows counter-perspectives to exist and speak truth to power. It takes a great deal of courage to do that, especially now when the lines between facts and fables have been blurred due to many, many reasons.

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Photo credit: Micheile Henderson

In a democracy, it is the responsibility of the voices of dissent to show where the power is failing and where it needs to step up. A power that doesn’t allow dissent to exist in a democracy violates the very fabric of it. And when that happens, we are stripped off our right to not only voice an opposing view but also have an opposition to exist at all.

A democracy without dissent is a voiceless totalitarian state. Let that sink in.

We don’t all have to agree but we must respectfully co-exist with our disagreements. That’s the bottom line of Democracy.

Now imagine if Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gloria Steinem never bothered to dissent. How different would our world be today if they had all agreed with people in power?

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