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Sedition is another law which must be repealed.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.

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