Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right and affects other fundamental and human rights. It enables free expression of opinions and propagation of those opinions. Free speech does not limit itself to enabling one’s free speech but includes within its ambit listening to another, and allowing the other to be heard, it embodies in it a convenient and essential co-existence of agreement and disagreement which are a natural consequence of free exchange of ideas.
Freedom of speech does not mean selective speech with lack of offence thereof, it is an instrument enabling productive exchange of all opinions which is conductive to the free functioning of a society, as every opinion is one manner or the other has a tendency to offend some person or group. This article aims to give an insight into various restrictions both past and relatively recent which tend to jeopardise the free exercise of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression in the contemporary scenario.
Freedom of speech and expression are guaranteed to the citizens of India under article 19(1)(a) of the constitution of India, which states that “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. Freedom of speech and expression, however, is not absolute and is subject to restrictions provided under article 19(2) of the constitution, them being protection of sovereignty and integrity of India, maintenance of security of the state, maintenance of friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence.
The Indian penal code contains certain offences which also have the tendency to restrict freedom of speech and expression, which make certain speeches punishable as provided under sections 107 – section 120 dealing with abetment as an offence, section 121 making abetment to wage war against the state an offence, section 131making abetment to mutiny an offence and section 499 making defamation an offence. Judicial decisions in various cases have brought within the ambit of freedom of speech: freedom of press; media trial; right to exhibition of films; telecasting and broadcasting rights and freedom to listen to commercial advertisements etcetera. One’s right can be enforced only when another’s duty is enforced. One pays the price for another’s privilege, and vice versa which forms a cycle.
Where one of the parties fail to pay for another’s privilege, the same would be reflected, thereby losing the very existence of the privilege in respect of both. Here, freedom of speech and expression being the right and the duty being, promoting harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional diversities, as mentioned in the fundamental rights and duties of the Indian constitution. In order for a citizen to freely exercise his/her freedom of speech, the others would have to abide by their fundamental duties.
Freedom of speech has been subjected to serious scrutiny and been extremely restricted in the contemporary scenario. No doubt freedom of speech comparatively to the pre independence era, had gained a lot of freedom and has been subjected to a lot less restrictions, however, presently under the actions of power wielders, being politicians primarily, there have been several attempts to restrict this freedom to their advantage by making use of the be wilderness of masses and further alienating them under various criteria like political identity, religion, communal identity, geography and the kind. Artists literarians, writers, journalists, activists, film directors have been the worst hit by this crisis to free speech and expression.Several journalists have been deprived of their very right to live in their pursuit of exercising freedom of press.
Many journalists like, Sandeep Sharma, an investigative journalist, reporting about unabated illegal sand mining and the alleged involvement of police in the same who had been crushed by a truck in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh; Patricia Mukhim, editor of Shillong times, who had a petrol bomb hurled at her residence; have been subjected to aggravated threats and while several were killed, others were forced to flee. Police have been observed to contribute to these incidents siding with the offenders, corrupted and abandoning their duty to protect the freedom of citizens.
A journalist, by the name of Emmy Ci Lawbei, from the north east was brutally beaten up by the police while reporting the tensions between the Assam-Mizoram border.Azeem Trivedi, an Indian cartoonist was arrested for his cartoons satirising corruption in India’s politics on the charges of supposed insult to the nation’s honour being seditious and for violation of law governing the use of information technology.
Similar aforementioned incidents have been frequenting in the recent years. Although in these incidents the statements made do not constitute an offence punishable by law that warrants an arrest in that regard, however, people continue to be arrested and mob lynched by those who find offence in their statements, for the sole reason of restricting people’s freedom of speech to protect the reputation of their respective political or communal identity and are branded as anti-nationalists.
Sedition unlike the other laws in force puts an unreasonable restriction on freedom of speech. Article 19(2) contains restrictions that are reasonable for the proper functioning of the state. Democracy or not, certain important aspects need to be regulated by law with regard to free speech like public order, foreign relations and national security which are covered under article 19(2).