“I may not agree with what you’ve said, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Sadly, only Voltaire thought so, ages back.
So, what now allows you and me and every citizen of India and most of the other countries as well, the right to speak our mind about the issues that concern us? Or at least seems to do so?
The Right to Freedom, under Article 19, specifically guarantees the Freedom of Speech and Expression to all individuals, along with 16 other freedoms. Yeah, why not.
Whilst the statement uses words such as *right* and *freedom* and *expression*, one would expect them to be used in their true meaning, and not as a guideline. But that is what the case seems to be. The Freedom of Speech and Press does not guarantee any absolute right to voice your thoughts, but comes along with certain restrictions along with it. What you can and cannot convey with your words is limited by directives such as *decent* and *moral*, and should not be against the *security of the state* or *incite an offence*. The issue is heightened even more when political and religious matters are under consideration.
What’s left to speak about then?
- As obvious as it is, the need to voice our thoughts is greater when our surroundings aren’t likeable enough, as compared to when we’re satisfied. We curse only when we feel bad, right? That contradicts the form of law directly, as it does not allow us to freely express our opinions, especially if they strongly oppose something or someone.
- The law also forbids any individual to speak in a manner that *injures the reputation of another* and thus, defamation is criminalized. Does that mean we’re only meant to praise?
- Moreover, we are not supposed to speak in a manner that may *corrupt the minds which are open to such immoral influences*. In other words, the law says that those who know, know already, those who don’t, don’t try and teach them any different.
In the wake of Charlie Hebdo’s killings, another man in Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi, an activist and writer, was sentenced to ten years in prison, a fine of one million royals (230, 000 Euros), and a thousand lashes spread over a twenty week period for what was seen as *insulting* Islam. Well, if such cruelty can be inflicted over a dare to question something one doesn’t believe is right; this world has serious issues to deal with.
Talking of a more relatable context, certain issues have been raised recently regarding censoring what users can and cannot upload. While the Supreme Court examines the constitutional validity of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which defines the punished viable if found guilty of sending offensive messages over the internet, mainstream social networks like Twitter and Facebook are questioning the vagueness of the same. The word *offensive* carries a wide connotation and is open to interpretations by both creators and users of online content.
Simply put, government wants us to stay within the limits they define, in addition to the 140 characters one.
All in all, the law states, exercise self-censorship when it comes to matters of national importance, or you’ll be proved wrong. Speak well and good about all you see, and you’ll be considered a responsible citizen. Criticize something that affects millions of lives, and voila, you’re harming the country’s goodwill.
If I’m disturbed by some act that’s nothing but orthodox and ancient, I would want to speak, or rather, post against it, only that I cannot, as the matter is *religious* or so. I’m not allowed to speak against any political leader or ridicule any idiotic statement of theirs, because they’re supposed to be *politically* correct. The Freedom of Speech and Expression, hence, if employed with such restrictions, doesn’t allow a person to speak freely, but too speak as the nation wants them to.
There’s something quite wrong with this right then, isn’t there?
By Snigdha Singh