Prashant Bhushan is not someone who would win the confidence and support of an ordinary Indian. He supports everything that the common man on the street, possibly, would not support. And he opposes everything, that an ordinary man would perhaps hold dear.
His views, stands and even public opinions are, in many cases, deeply offensive. In fact, he would himself demand curb on FoE, if someone were to question the ideas that he himself revers or holds dear.
But the freedom of being offensive in speech or writing is the hallmark of a democracy.
Prashant Bhushan has been held guilty of contempt of court by none other than the Supreme Court of India itself.
However, we still hope that the SC takes a lenient view in the matter and shows leniency towards him while deciding the sentence.
Article 129 gives the Courts the powers to punish anyone for contempt of court. However, this same article is also in transgression of a sacred principle of justice – that no one should judge his own case.
The courts judging cases of their own contempt is not something that can be justified merely by arguing that it is necessary for administration of justice or for preserving the authority of the courts.
In an ideal democracy, FoE should be absolute. No courts, no principles, no positions, no gods and no prophets should be beyond the reach of FoE.
Ideally, no offence should be attached to written or spoken words.
Even abuses and slander, and even blasphemy, should be allowed in an ideal society, because these all fall under FoE, although the degree of offence in them differs.
Even abuse and hateful words can be termed as extreme criticism. And what use are democracy and freedom, if they give you no right to criticise?
In fact, moral and ideal cannon of one religion can easily be taken as being deeply offensive and blasphemous to followers of another religion.
Your blasphemy can be my FoE. And my blasphemy can be your FoE.
Your food can be my blasphemy, my prayer can be your blasphemy.
The line between FoE and offence is very thin and subjective.
This was recognised in Indian culture from the very beginning.
Therefore, in India, there is a tradition that anything shown or depicted or performed on a Natya Manch is tolerated as beyond questioning.
Books, including even offensive ones, are never burnt in our tradition. They are held sacred. We read them and take what is worth taking and ignore the rest.
This is the reason Indian society turned even a Charvaka into a saint. The same Charvaka who spoke even against The Vedas, all gods and everything that was held sacred by the then society.
If we were not tolerant, even a Buddha or a Mahavir could have been held guilty of blasphemy.
Galileo and several others did have to suffer this fate in the West, unlike our society, where there has always been freedom to question everything. Even gods.
We have a healthy tradition of tolerating even the vilest and deeply offensive of words, written or spoken.
However, our society has changed. We have been influenced by other schools of thoughts too. And now the reality is that we are not an ideal democracy.
Many individuals and many sections in our society do not realise the importance of FoE. They do not understand that freedom to blaspheme is essential for progress of human kind.
Such individuals and sections want to have freedom to blaspheme for themselves, but are ready to kill or deny the same freedom to others.
And this is why we cannot be described as being very tolerant and free society at this point of time, for reasons which are beyond our control.
Therefore, at present, maybe we need a balance between FoE and Contempt of Court provisions, even if only for practical reasons.
However, the needle of this balance should always tilt towards FoE.