Author: Tirth Acharya, first year law student at the United World School of Law, Karnavati University.
Speech is considered to be the best gift mankind earned from god. Speech makes us lifted much above the other creations of immortal nature. The power of speech can be used for various things like to express, demand, oppose, win hearts or slay rivals. Jesus Christ used his speech to spread love in the world whereas Adolf Hitler’s speech was the root cause of World War 2. It’s a basic right or natural right which every human possesses. Even today, people who speak frankly are sought to be more attractive as compared to those who speak less. When the Britishers began to supress this right, the demand for freedom was born among the Indians. Freedom of speech and expression is regarded as the first condition of liberty. All people in the world still do not enjoy this right. Countries like China and North Korea have strictness when expressing opinions and speech is considered.
The origin of freedom of speech traces root from Greek history. The UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948 under Article 19 which recognised the freedom of speech and expression as one of the human rights. The importance of this right is that it helps us in the journey of exploration of the truth and self-fulfilment. The right articulated the liberty to speak or express ideas, opinions, thoughts in all ways like through writing, art, symbols, gestures and even pictures. Expressions gave birth to imagination, discussion, communication and creativity. This right gave us the power to bolster ourselves against an evil force.
Article 19 of the Indian Constitution 1949 lays down the rights of freedom among which freedom of speech and expression is one. The right sings that everyone has the freedom of expressing their ideas, beliefs, thoughts through art, writings, songs, pictures etc. included it should not hold any abusive content against anything as it might result in defamation. The right also teaches us to listen to other’s ideas, opinions or thoughts. When a person expresses his/her opinion, it only carries the intrinsic value of that opinion and being silent on that opinion is an injustice to the basic human rights. Other rights that allow or help Indian society develop and progress are supported by freedom of speech and expression. Free speech and expression have always been important throughout history as it facilitates many changes, one of which is the French revolution. This right often derives us happiness until it is mixed with offensive or harmful impacts.
Freedom of Expression can make peaceful and positive changes in society. The benefits are that you are able to say what you want and express your feelings on a certain subject such as government or public and private property or other things. But what this actually brought to us was violence. When the choices or ideas aren’t heard by other people, it led to one getting angry and not being able to control emotions. It is necessary to preserve freedom of speech and expression in a democratic country. But it is also necessary to restrict this freedom to maintain social order otherwise some people might misuse this freedom. Many a time this freedom has always been misused because of the selfish or evil conduct of people. People have always used these rights to either defame others or spread hatred.
We have a fresh controversy in front of us, the “Tandav” web series controversy. There were objections to the content of this web series as it had candidly hurt the sentiments of Hindus and their religion by some dialogues. This lead to antipathy among the Hindus for it and the creators were forced to stop the tuning of the show on entertainment media. Here, the writer wished to express his ideas through the script but it was observed as a defamatory act to the Hindus. This led to the omission of some scenes from the web series because there was a continuous effort from the public to put a ban on the show and stop its airing.
The term freedom to hold and deliver opinions has been misinterpreted by the world. There has been an ambivalence in the understanding of the real meaning. The assertion has been made false merely because people think, this freedom has been granted to merely criticize whatever they feel is wrong. That has what annihilated humanity. The business entrepreneur ‘Jack Ma’, who is a Chinese citizen. He had criticized the functioning of the government of China in a show, couple of months back. Since then, Jack Ma had to face the rage of the government of China for his statements and now he’s been missing for the last three months. Nobody knows what happened and how.
For me, if anyone misuses this right then it is the media. They publish or cast matter which might not have really existed just to increase their streaming of the show and many a time, things often turn into disputes just due to the silly act of the media. To stop the misuse of this freedom by the public or media, our government has now started curbing these rights. The state is using all means to silence the voices of the dissent. This is done with the help of the Sedition Law. The opinions which crave for recognition have been supressed by the government with an iron hand.
The arrest of JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, on charges of sedition inciting violence through ‘unlawful’ and ‘anti-national’ speech, allegedly, created waves not only across India, but internationally as well as students, teachers and academicians the world over speak out in support of JNU students and against their treatment by the government. KedarNath Singh v. the State of Bihar has been the first remarkable case of sedition who was a party leader and was charged for a hate speech for condemning the government and calling out for a revolution. “Today the dogs of the CID are loitering around Barauni”, he said as he began his speech. “The people of India elected these Congress goondas to the gaddi and seated them on it. Today these Congress goondas are sitting on the gaddi due to mistake of the people….” The Apex Court then finalised its judgement by taking the matter into consideration on the basis of public disorder and violence.
Aseem Trivedi vs. State of Maharashtra (2012) is a case about a cartoonist. He used to create cartoons based on the theme of anti-corruption. He had been alleged to displaying defamatory and derogatory sketches that represented parliament as a commode. His sketched laid down a bad image of the National Emblem of India. For this act, he was sentenced to life prison. Though his show had a bad taste of content people believe that the punishment was extreme. Arundhati Roy, a novelist, is facing the threat of arrest after claiming that the disputed territory of Kashmir was not an integral part of India.Even the recent controversy of the famers protest against the farm bill can be counted. Freedom to express was mis-vowed to right to protest. The protest had a hidden rage. Many farmers and policemen were injured when violence broke out. The National flag was defamed and so were the sentiments of the nation. This can be counted as an offensive act against the nation. Due to the law of Sedition in India, a situation has arisen where it can be interpreted that to speak/express is to commit a wrong for which you can be held liable. This has conceded people who want to express their opinions no matter good or bad, turn back and drop the idea of expression or raising their voice. The people raising their voices to claim their rights have been given a deaf year. Putting forward an idea, opinion or information is being answerable to any future consequences and submitting to criticism. Not many governments have granted this freedom as they fear the consequences of uproar against the government. Our government has given us this freedom, but has made up its mind to curb it. All the above cases are fresh examples of it. Any comedian who just makes a puke of government, religion, people etc. are made sure to face the rage.
In recent pandemic, the demand of students was not heard by the education ministry of India. Students opposed the conduct of competitive exams amid the pandemic. The education minister had his deaf ears and forced students to take the competitive exams by creating a pressure of “no exam, no college”. The right of freedom is guaranteed by our Constitution a long back but still we haven’t properly understood its importance and implementation. Both government and the public are to be held responsible for it. This subject matter has to be contemplated. This is because we can’t move on with the same condition as that of now. On one hand we have the freedom to express ourselves with voice, on the other hand it is being curbed by the law of sedition or by getting a deaf ear from our government.
When government does not supress our freedom then it is our duty not to misuse it. Misuse is the main dilemma that has given rise to controversies, wars and even I can say, the amendment of the law of sedition in India. This makes misconception and interpretation as whenever there rises a voice against any wrong of the government then it is directly regarded as to be a hate speech against the nation. There are many cases where the individuals have been booked without cross-examination into the matter. A person charged under this law is barred from government jobs. They are deprived of their passport and are forced to present themselves in the court at times as and when required. Sedition is a non-bailable offence. There have been many innocents who have been victims of this act which makes this matter to be looked after. The punishment for a person convicted of sedition should be made more reasonable, in accordance with the changing times. Today, with greater freedom of speech and expression and stronger views on the government amongst the masses, the crime of sedition, in most cases, does not warrant imprisonment up to a life sentence or other such harsh punishments. Also, it is always possible in cases of sedition that the person’s words were taken out of context or that they were said in the heat of the moment.
Sedition is, no doubt, a controversial concept; it must be held in a delicate balance with our ‘Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression’. While every citizen does possess the freedom to express their views on the Government, no citizen should be allowed to spread unnecessary hatred among the masses and incite violence. Sedition should not be seen as criticism but in the way of an opportunity to correct and develop ourselves. Neither every decision is right nor every opinion good. What we need is a balance between the rights and responsibilities and that needs to be carved out by better defined-policies and laws. It is strange but true that we have to use our freedom of speech and expression to protect our freedom of speech and expression.
I believe in the voice. The voice that guides us too good. The voice helps us explore the truth. The Voice which stands for the rights of the mass and not to defame others, the voice which asks for help and not for a bribe, voice which shows kindness than rage, generosity than abuse and the voice whose base is non-violence. I believe in ideas, opinions and thoughts which are more likely to promote a positive change in the society, empowering the helpless, demonstrating innovation and creativity, strengthening democratic values and so forth.
I hereby conclude by quoting the Supreme Court ruling “Freedom of right is fundamental but not absolute”.