Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression is one of the cornerstones of the Indian democracy.
Here is all you need to know about this fundamental right of yours.
What is the right to freedom of speech and expression?:
- It is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) (read as: Article 19,section 1, subsection a).
- Article 19 gives every citizen the Right to Freedom
What all aspects are covered under the ambit of Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression?
- It includes:
- Right to propagate one’s views.
- Freedom of Press.
- Freedom of commercial advertisements.
- Right against tapping of telephonic conversations.
- Right to telecast.
- Right against bandh called by parties.
- Freedom of silence.
- Right to know government activities.
- Right against imposition of pre-censorship on newspapers
- Right to demonstration and picketing but not the right to strike
Are there any restrictions on this right? If yes, what are they?
Article 19(2) imposes certain “reasonable restrictions” on the Right to Freedom of Speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) on the following grounds:
- Sovereignty and integrity of India.
- Security of the state.
- Friendly relations with foreign states.
- Public order.
- Against Decency and morality.
- Contempt of court.
- Incitement to offence.
What are the various instances in recent times or any persistent ones which threaten these rights?:
The following are just a few of them:
- Wendy Doniger’s book : The Hindus: An Alternative history was tortured to be pulped due to religious opposition.
- Killing of Narendra Dabholkar and MM Kalburgi.
- Protest against films like Bajirao Mastani and Jodha Akbar.
- Perumal Murugan gave up writing due to protest against his work.
- The arrest of comedian Kiku Sharda for imitating Ram Rahim.
What is Heckler’s veto?
Heckler’s Veto means : “by threatening public disorder or disturbance, socially powerful groups can shut down the critical or inconvenient speech by simply cowing the writer as well as police into submission.”
How does the government try to curb the free speech?
There are many cases when the government misuses its authority of construing a law to curb free speech.
Some of the Indian Penal Code provisions are:
- Section 124(a): Sedition.
“words either spoken or written or by visual representation or otherwise, brings or attempt to bring hatred or contempt, dissatisfaction or provoking violence” against the central or state government
- Section 295a: arrest for presumably “outraging” the government sentiments
- Section 153a : insult of religion.
- Section 499: Criminal Defamation, that is, criminalizing the act of defamation. Such a provision can lead to self-censorship of opposition to the government.
The broader thing is that use of ambiguous language in an act makes it a tool in the hand of government and can often be misused in their favor. A recent example was the Section 66(a) of the I-T act,2000 which was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as it could have a “chilling effect” on the free speech.
What should be done to preserve the free speech?:
- A healthy atmosphere of debates and discussions need to be developed.
- Rationalizing the laws of the “colonial era”.
- Laying down an objective code regarding the restrictions on free speech in order to avoid violation of the right.
- Rulings of the Supreme court and High court must be taken into consideration.
- Preventive and Punitive measures for those who are found in contradiction with the fundamentals of free speech. This would counter Heckler’s veto.