A true measure of being democratic is not the cycles of elections – it is the dignity given to disagreement, to dissent. Why must we dignify dissent? There are the arguments that we hear everyday: so that the views of the majority cannot silence the voices of a few; so that no one view or institution may becomes so dominant as to become authoritarian; and the value of freedom of speech and expression in and of themselves. Any memory of the Emergency in 1975-77 is testimony to why any of these are important. Yet there is a more fundamental reason why dissent is the cornerstone of a democracy: it is the action of a free citizen.
Speech is an action. An action within a democratic framework – an action that simultaneously shows a continuous faith in the polity, the state and the people even as one (often virulently) disagrees with it. An action that keeps a democratic system alive. You dissent as a citizen, in the name of your constitution. You dissent because you have the freedom to do so – not a freedom you have been “given” but one that you possess because you, as part of the people, are sovereign. This is more important than what we are taught in our textbooks – being able to voice our disagreement is as central as the ability to walk to a ballot box and cast our vote. This is a freedom we give to each other as democratic citizens and that we must protect, especially when we disagree.