freedom of speech

Freedom of Speech

Priyansi Vijay Patil, 13 October, 2020

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” 

George Washington

The Ability to speak is a gift of God to all Humans beings which we cherish throughout our lifetime. This gift of speech helps us in expressing our feelings, thoughts, emotions and anguish to other people. Words have immense power in them and this depends entirely on how we use it. Words have power to build up or tear down any alliance. Hence, it is our responsibility to use this power of words carefully.

According to Amnesty International, ‘Freedom of speech is the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, by any means. ‘Freedom of speech and the right to freedom of expression applies to ideas of all kinds including those that may be deeply offensive. But it comes with responsibilities and we believe it can be legitimately restricted. 

In the modern times, almost all the countries in the world have conferred upon its citizens the right of freedom of speech with certain restrictions. United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights has preserved the right of freedom of speech and is granted formal recognition by the laws of most nations; however, the degree to which this right is upheld varies greatly from one country to another. Indian Constitution has also bestowed its citizen with the fundamental right of Freedom of speech and expression.

Right to Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed to all Indian citizens under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. The law states that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. Under Article 19(2) reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the exercise of this right for certain purposes. Any limitation on the exercise of the right under Article 19(1) (a) not falling within the four corners of Article 19(2) cannot be valid. The freedom of speech under Article 19(1) (a) includes the right to express one’s views and opinions at any issue through any medium, e.g. by word of mouth, writing, printing, picture, film, movie, etc. It thus includes the freedom of communication and the right to propagate or publish an opinion. But this right is subject to reasonable restrictions being imposed under Article 19(2). Free expression cannot be equated or confused with a license to make unfounded and irresponsible allegations against the judiciary.

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Are we really having Freedom of speech and expression in India?

We all know that speech is gift of God to all human beings and we are all also aware that almost all the countries in the World have given the freedom of speech and expression to its citizens with some reasonable restrictions. Freedom of speech is said to be a human right in many of the international statutes as well. Our Indian Constitution has also given freedom of speech to the citizens of the country. In fact, freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right in our country. By reading all this we come to a conclusion that we have a right to express our grievances against the government and criticise it. But wait… We actually do not have a freedom of speech and expression because the restrictions mentioned have almost nullified this freedom of ours.

In India, the right of speech and expression is not absolute. Article 19 guarantees the right ‘to freedom of speech and expression’ of the Indian Constitution. However, the Constitution also allows the government to limit freedom of expression “in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.” The framers of the Constitution drew this feature of restricting the freedom of speech on certain grounds from the Irish Constitution.

Initially, when the Constitution came into force on 26 January, 1950, the only grounds on which this fundamental right could be restricted were “libel, slander, defamation, contempt of court or any other matter which offends against the decency or morality or undermines the security of or tends to overthrow the state.” After a few months only, this fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a) was put to test. The restrictions under Article 19(2) were invoked by three state governments to clamp down on select publications. In Bihar, the government eliminated a political pamphlet. The high court rejected the state’s decision. The Madras State government banned a communist weekly which criticized the policies of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. This move of government was also knocked down by the decision of Supreme Court. The same thing happened in Brij Bhushan’s case, where a court struck down a pre-censorship order on a weekly run by the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh, ‘The Organiser’. By all these decisions of the courts, PM Nehru was upset. He wrote to the law Minister BR Ambedkar regarding the need to amend the Constitution, he justified the need for an amendment on ‘moral’ grounds rather than political one.

On this basis, the first amendment to the Indian Constitution was made in 1951. It expanded the exceptions to the freedom of speech to eight from original four. The new insertions were public order, security of the state, and incitement to an offence and friendly relations with the foreign states. The first amendment to the Indian Constitution limited the right to Freedom of Speech and Expression whereas the first amendment to the American Constitution granted more Freedom of speech and expression to its citizens. In the year 1963, an additional word ‘reasonable’ was inserted; it helped to reign in the restrictions, even on the eight permissible grounds.

The extensive Constitutional amendments carried out in 1972 replaced Section of the Indian Penal Code with sections 153A and 153B. These newly added sections are so extensive, that today, as the increasing court cases establish, “the right to freedom of speech and expression has almost been nullified”.

There are several sections of the Indian Penal Code that criminalize certain speech. Section 153A, for example, criminalizes “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to  maintenance of harmony by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise.” . Then there is Sedition under Section 124A of IPC; it states that “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government establish by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added”. Section 292 criminalizes obscenity. Section 295A criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class” of citizens. Section 298 criminalizes “uttering any word or making any sound” with “the deliberate intension of wounding the religious feeling of any person.” The charge of defamation is also used to silence free speech. Section 499 and 500 of IPC criminalize defamation in terms so broad that anyone can claim to be aggrieved by something said or written about them.

About Freedom of Press in India:-

In India the number of News Channels and newspapers is huge. The number of self-declared reporters is also increasing. The media is becoming a family owned business. The reporters who speak out truth face harassments and threats. Self-censorship by journalist is a growing problem. Reporters without Borders ranked India in 142rd place out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. The writers, speakers and thinkers of all castes, creed and social positions are suffering due to these reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech. On many occasions, journalists, writers and speakers have been charged and arrested under the provisions like 153A and B of IPC.

Conclusion:-

Human Beings are blessed with the gift of communication which is a main factor which distinguishes us with the other occupiers of the planet. Freedom of speech is an important aspect of self-development and self-fulfilment and restrictions on it will hamper the personality of an individual. Even for the overall development of society it is essential that one is provided with an opportunity to express one’s belief. But after learning, about so much of restrictions on speech, an individual will start believing that he has no right to open his mouth. This is completely wrong, if we didn’t had the freedom of expressing ourselves we weren’t involved in writing articles and expressing our ideas. It is rightly said that freedom comes with responsibilities. And this saying is completely true with the Freedom of speech and expression as well. We should always keep in mind while enjoying our freedom of speech we do not hurt somebody else sentiments. Also it should be noted that the words which provoke violence or which directly threaten the maintenance of public order deserve censure… 

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