Misuse of Freedom of Speech in India

Freedom of speech is one of the basic pillars of democracy. In fact, the best quote till date in support of ‘freedom of speech’ comes from one of the founding fathers of one of the oldest democracies of the modern world (USA, that is), George Washington, the first US president: ‘If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter’.

From the oldest (USA), let us now move to the largest (India). Freedom of speech is a constitutionally-guaranteed and constitutionally-protected right — under Article 19(1)(a) — bestowed upon every citizen of India. However, it is not an absolute right…in fact, freedom of speech as it traces its development through the course of history, has to be judged from two points of view. The first is the ‘harm principle’ that was proposed by John Stuart Mill; the second is the ‘offence principle’ that was added (in addition to the ‘harm principle’) by Joel Fienberg.

In fact, most countries take these two principles into consideration when defining the scope and setting the limit to ‘freedom of speech’…and that is the case with India too. According to Article 19 Clause 2 of the Indian Constitution, the legislature is empowered to impose certain restrictions on free speech under the following heads:

I. Security of the State
II. Friendly Relations with Foreign States
III. Public Order
IV. Decency and Morality
V. Contempt of Court
VI. Defamation
VII. Incitement to an Offence, and
VIII. Sovereignty and Integrity of India

If one takes a closer look at these imposed restrictions, it becomes clear how often this very ‘Freedom of Speech’ is subject to misuse. There are two particular incidents that need to be mentioned in particular.

The first, of course, is the incident at JNU that has witnessed a huge divide amongst the people of this great big nation. Keeping the controversy surrounding the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar aside (that alone is worthy of its own article hence it is advisable to keep him out of the present premise), consider what happened inside JNU on the eve of February 9th. A group of students [ex-DSU members, to be exact], on false pretext (which was asserted by a JNU professor, Prof. Makarand Paranjape), organised a cultural event titled ‘A Country Without A Post Office’. Once the administration got wind of what was planned for the event, the event was cancelled. However, ignoring the ‘cancellation’ order, the group of students proceed to an evening of sloganeering. It was this volley of slogans that has irked the “extreme nationalists” (whatever that word means)…which isn’t surprising if one looks at some of the slogans (as provided below):

# Bharat desh ho barbad, ho barbad. Afzal Guru amar rahe, amar rahe;
# Kashmir ki azaadi tak jung rahegi. Bharat ki barbaadi tak jung rahegi;
# Afzal tera karwaan hai adhura. Mil kar hum karenge poora;
# Tum kitne Afzal maroge? Ghar ghar se Afzal niklenge.
# Kashmir maange azaadi. Ladkar lenge azaadi.
# Afzal hum sharminda hain. Tere qaatil zinda hain.
# India Go back. India Go back.

As ABVP members assembled to prevent the event from taking place, a scuffle broke out between the students…and this was when the Delhi police was summoned to the campus. If one looked at the slogans being raised that fateful night, it isn’t difficult to see that it was a clear violation of the reasonable restrictions that have been laid down by the very constitution that gives the ‘freedom of speech’…if it is looked at from the angle of ‘I. Security of the State’, ‘III. Public Order’, ‘VII. Incitement to an Offence’, and ‘VIII. Sovereignty and Integrity of India’.

For those who feel that it does not qualify as ‘sedition’ and it was merely people exercising their constitutional right to ‘freedom of speech’, they need to go back in time to March 6, 2002. It was the day, a Supreme Court bench held Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy guilty of criminal contempt of court. She was punished with imprisonment [it was mostly symbolic for she was sentenced to one-day simple imprisonment] and fine [of Rs. 2000…in case of failure to pay fine, the author would be required to undergo simple imprisonment for three months].

This particular incident needs to be mentioned…and highlighted! [Especially, since Arundhati Roy was once again booked in 2010 – this time for ‘Sedition’ – for an “anti-India” speech she delivered at an event in Delhi.] Given this background, it becomes an important question: “Lowering the dignity of the Supreme Court was found to be an offence, but it is alright (under the blanket of ‘freedom of speech’) to lower the dignity of the nation and shout slogans against its very sovereignty and integrity?”

How about lowering the dignity of a Hindu goddess? Unbeknownst to most people, JNU has been a breeding ground for malicious and salacious content for a long time. Since 2011, groups of JNU students have been celebrating ‘Mahishasur Shahadat Diwas’ during the Durga Puja celebration. While, it sounds harmless enough, what needs mentioning is that Goddess Durga is shown as a seductress and prostitute, who killed Mahishasur by deceit at the behest of the Aryan King Indra! [And the same individuals who are crying hoarse over “trampled” ‘freedom of speech’ were guilty of wrecking havoc at a Durga Puja pandal. Apparently, respecting religion is not a two-way street for these proponents of freedom. What utter hypocrisy!]

This divisive politics is not only attempting to corrode the unity of India, it is attempting to drive a stake through the very heart of secular India. In 2012, there was yet another attempt to divide the students when the communists organised a “beef and pork festival” under the name of ‘Democratic Right to Choice of Food’. [The event was opposed by both Hindus and Muslims; and was later canceled after an order from the Delhi High Court].

To be honest, freedom of speech must always be accompanied by freedom of thought, where you must always think of your brethren!



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