Friday, November 30, 2012

Freedom to speak and express... do we have it?

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India says "All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression." This freedom, however, is not absolute but is subject to certain "reasonable restrictions" which are given in Article 19(2) of our Constitution. They include restrictions on acts which interfere with "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"

In my opinion, free speech must not have any restrictions other than for those speeches that directly incite violence, are slanderous and libelous. I do not believe that speaking anything against the sovereignty and integrity of India by any person is going to cause a collapse to our sovereignty or integrity. I believe these restrictions should be removed. Unless the speaker (or writer or anyone using any form of expression) causes people to commit violence which threatens the sovereignty of our country, there is absolutely no reason, in my opinion that his/her speech needs to be restricted in a democracy.

Decency and morality have not been given a fixed definition. On what basis can one judge whether something spoken or expressed is decent or moral? What is indecent to me may seem alright to another.And something I consider immoral may not be thought the same by my peers. For example, wearing shoes and entering the kitchen is a complete no-no to my mother since she considers the kitchen as a sort of holy place. but I see no reason why I must not wear my shoes to the kitchen. To me the kitchen is only where I get my next meal and, being an atheist, I see nothing holy about it.

In the name of protecting this decency and morality and "culture," we have seen atrocious acts committed by people. The recent attacks on young women sitting in pubs and partying at a homestay in Mangalore is a grim reminder of how vigilante groups have full sway over innocent people. What a girl chooses to wear or where she chooses to be is entirely her wish. Assaulting people for any reason is a criminal act. People can surely have a dissenting opinion in a democracy, but committing violence should not be allowed. That attack, I felt was an attack on the girls' freedom of speech and expression.

Sedition is another law which must be repealed. Article 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) explains sedition as, "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 established by law in India." Why does this law even exist? People have the right to speak against the Government in a democracy. If there is no opposition to the Government, then we are under an authoritarian government and not in a democracy.

There are many other laws like section 66A of the IT Act and so on which must be repealed. Section 295A of the IPC allows prosecution for the smallest offence rendered to any religion. What if you have no religion and think all religions are false? You absolutely have no place to voice that opinion and thus, your freedom of speech is restricted by this law. Religion should not feature in any law in a secular state according to me.

I feel the government and our judiciary must do more to ensure that the citizens' freedom of speech and expression is preserved. I feel we must not take lightly these laws as they are truly oppressive. Many other laws similar to the ones mentioned here are in practice in India today. Many people do not even know that such laws even exist. I hope this article will make you search for them and understand their implications and more importantly, I hope this article will help you fight for free speech and expression in our country.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Development must include everyone

India has been termed one of the fastest growing countries in the world. It is touted to be superpower along with China. The development that India has achieved is being hailed all over the world. But still so many of us live below the poverty line. So many mothers and children are malnourished. So many prople are starving and homeless. What kind of growth is this?

We hear our politicians speak of their achievements in bringing about so must growth. The TV news channels and newspapers are full of reports about our success story but rarely do we see or hear anything about the plight of the poorest of the poor in our country. 

This eyewash by the media has led people living in cities to believe that each and everyone of the 1.2 billion people in India are prospering. This is surely not the case. There are more poor in India than in the poorest regions Africa, this is a fact. The growth we see on TV or read in the newspapers is only the growth of the middle class, the upper middle class and the rich. The poor continue to remain poor.

Our villages are plagued by drought and lack of basic facilities. Most villages do not get three phase electricity for even 6 hours a day and we in cities complain even if there is no power for 15 minutes. We hail politicians like Narendra Modi who have done so much of development, while completely overlooking the kind of development that has taken place. People are still malnourished in Gujarat, there is still a high infant-mortality rate. These statistics are alarming to me. How can one call that growth when everyone cannot benefit from it?

India's growth according to me is exclusive. I cannot call this growth because it has excluded the majority of the population while only focusing on a small group of the urban population. We must strive to change this trend of inclusive growth. We must educate those who cannot afford an education and teach them their rights. We must demand from the government to first provide basic amenities to people who do not have them. Then we can think about expressways and flyovers and malls and so on.

Secularism means separation of religion from the State

The preamble of our constitution declares India to be a secular nation. The Constitution through Article 25 allows every Indian to practice and propagate any religion of his/her choice. This means that the State of India is devoid of a religion and ideally practices no faith but welcomes all faiths and treats them equally.

However, recently, we saw The CM of Karnataka doling out money to Mutts. Former CM of Karnataka BS Yedyurappa had donated close to Rs. 300 crore to various Mutts in Karnataka according to an article in the Times of India dated 25 Feb 2013. The article also states that overall, a sum in excess of Rs. 500 crore was earmarked for Mutts by the BJP Government of Karnataka.

Now, donations to religious institutions is not wrong, as long as it is from one's own pocket. But the money that was given to the Mutts was from the State exchequer. Meaning it is the tax-payers money. This is, according to me, a violation of the secular principle of our Constitution.

This must not be encouraged. Politics and religion should not be clubbed together. The job of a political leader is to serve people no matter what community they belong to. And it is the job of our governments and judiciary to uphold the secular fabric of our nation.

Article 25(2)(a) of the Constitution says "Nothing in this article [Article 25] shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice." But does any law exist restricting any political activity associated with religion? If it did, all the issues related to politics and religion can be controlled. There would be no political instigation or involvement in any religious activity. Politics of religion can be removed from our country.

The State and religions will truly be separate and all faiths can live in harmony only if politics does not play a part in people's faith. I extend my support to a passing of such law under Article 25(2)(a) of our Constitution. If we restrict political activity in religion now, probably our children will live in a secular country. As of now, we only have a secular country on paper, not in reality. Remove religion from politics and government and secularism will come. Mark Tully, a former BBC correspondent in India said that India was fundamentally secular and I tend to agree with him. It is the politics that is harming this fundamentally secular nature of our country. This is my opinion and this is why I urge a separation of religion from the State.