“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties”
– John Milton
How do we get our ideas across? We have framed or have been there with us since the inception through voice and varied gestures. This is a natural right that every human being is born with. As a result, it is a fundamental right. “Everyone, therefore, has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference, as well as the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and without regard to frontiers,” declares the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).This right helps every individual of the country to help themselves as they are free to express their views through speech or any other mode. In other words, this right motivates people to come and take a stand and raise their voice and actively be part of all the events happening in the country. However, this right does not imply that a person can say anything, anywhere, without regard for the time, place, or situation in which he finds himself, or the influence and consequences that his speech and expression will have on society. Free speech is defined as the ability to think and speak freely, as well as to learn from others via writings and public discussion, without fear of reprisal, limits, or suppression by the government. Article 19 (1) of the Indian constitution enumerates six essential rights, including freedoms that are expressly described with sub-clauses of Article 19 (1) as under freedoms that are specifically summarised with sub-clauses of Article 19 (1) as under:
(a) To freedom of speech and expression;
(b) To assemble peaceably and without arms;
(c) To form associations or unions;
(d) To move freely throughout the territory of India;
(e) To reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
(f) To practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade, or business
Allowing all citizens to engage in the country’s political and social activities is a fundamental aspect of a functioning democracy. In a true democracy, everyone has the right to free speech, opinion, and expression in whatever form (oral, written, broadcast, etc.).
- People’s voices must be heard, and their problems must be addressed.
- Democracy is jeopardized in the absence of the aforementioned liberties. The government will become overbearing and begin to serve the interests of a select few rather than the broader populace.
- This is significant because democracy only functions properly when citizens have the freedom to voice their views on the government and, if necessary, to criticize it.
- People will suffer tyranny silently if their freedom of free expression and free press is severely curtailed. People would feel suffocated in such a situation and would revolt.
- In a real democracy, the people’s opinions must be heard not just in the political arena, but also in other sectors such as social, cultural, and economic.
- The significance of this freedom may be appreciated from the fact that the Preamble guarantees all people the freedom of thought, speech, religion, faith, and worship.
- It also serves as a forum for marginalized and minority views to be heard. The right to freedom of speech and expression can be used to spotlight and bring to the forefront issues that affect these communities.
- Artists’ creative license is protected by freedom of speech and expression, which permits them to freely develop and disseminate ideas. Academic publications, satirical works, theatre, cartoons, visual arts, and stand-up comedians are all examples.
Restrictions on freedom of speech
However, under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution, this right is subject to “reasonable limits” for specified reasons. ‘Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) affects the operation of any existing law or prevents the State from making any law, insofar as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of India’s sovereignty and integrity, the State’s security, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or concerning contempt of court’, according to Article 19 (2).
- The government has the power to limit freedom of speech and expression in order to protect the state. On the other hand, security concerns must pose a more significant threat to public order, such as insurrection, insurgency, or waging war against the state, among other things.
- Indian Penal Code makes defamation a crime. The right to freedom of speech and expression does not include the right to libel and harm another person’s reputation. As a result, the right to free speech and expression does not grant someone immunity from slandering another’s reputation in society.
- Since the judiciary is so vital in a democracy, freedom of speech and expression may be restricted in order to preserve the institution’s prestige and public trust. This is vital to avoid vandalism and putting the courts in peril. Contempt of court is punished by the Supreme Court and the High Courts, respectively.
- India acquired sovereign power and established itself as a sovereign entity with total authority over its domestic affairs after 200 years of colonization. As a result, individuals are forbidden from making statements that might threaten the country’s hard-won integrity and sovereignty. This was included to make it illegal for persons or organisations in the country to encourage separatist activity.
Judicial ingenuity, activity, and craftsmanship have expanded the scope of free speech and expression to include freedom of the press, commercial speech, broadcasting, the right to criticize, and the right to keep silent, among other things. “Freedom of Speech and Press lay at the core of all democratic organizations, for without open political discussion, no public education, so vital for the efficient functioning of the process of government, is conceivable,” as RomeshThapar v. the State of Madras correctly stated. However, in the context of public peace and safety, this is subject to constraints under article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. Broadcasting of news and viewpoints for public consumption is necessary at any phase, especially in a democratic setup like ours, and any attempt to avoid it is futile.
India has long since lost the purity that once shone brightly in the face of the concept of freedom of expression. It is currently engulfed by religious and caste-based vicious spirals. The freedom or the right to free speech and expression may be the most misused freedom in recent times. People are free to make any argument they choose. The torrent of ideas and words was halted in its tracks by eagle-eyed socio-political elements. We do not live in the twenty-first century ideologically. After reviewing all of the other social satisfaction tags they’ve assigned to you, our expressions obtain the ultimate approval. One of the most significant examples is the decline of the country’s true media houses.As previously said, we are fortunate to have a constitution that protects the right to freedom of expression and speech, which is a basic human right that must be protected in a democratic society. Despite a troubling global tendency among governments to unjustifiably restrict the freedom of expression of persons who are seen to disagree with official ideas, we live in a country where the court has worked hard to strike a careful balance between freedom of speech and justifiable restriction…
Authors Name: Gopika G Nair & Arya Suresh (School of Legal Studies CUSAT)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, article 19
Constitution of India, 1949, article 19(1)
Constitution of India, 1949, article 19(2)
Indian Penal Code, 1860, section 499
Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950, SC 124