Home Opinion Editorial FoE should allow us to be ‘hurtful’ and ‘divisive’

FoE should allow us to be ‘hurtful’ and ‘divisive’


The Supreme Court has deferred the broadcast of Sudarshan TV program on the alleged “big expose on the conspiracy” in UPSC.

While this deferring of a programme on presumed grounds itself reeks of pre-censorship, some of the observations made by the court during the hearing are also very disturbing and prove that we Indians, including the judges, have difficulty when it comes to understanding the concept of freedom of speech.

The Courts called for the setting up of a committee of five citizens who can come up with standards for electronic media. It said: “We don’t want any persons of politically divisive nature and we need members, who are of commendable stature.”

It should be politely pointed out to the Court that a big Parliament has been elected for the same purpose and they do not need to set up another extra constitutional committee to decide on FoE matters. Or do they think the members are not ‘of commendable stature’?

The Court should also understand that it is hard to find even a single person who is above politics. And ‘commendable stature’ is a subjective concept. ‘Commendable’ for someone can be ‘loathsome’ for someone else.

Most of the observations of Justice D Y Chadrachud and Justice Joseph in the case reflect confused thinking, which is neither here nor there.

Freedom of speech cannot be made conditional to the extent of hurt it causes in a community. And ‘hate’ cannot and should not be barred. ‘Hating’ someone can be bad, good, desirable and mandatory depending upon the situation. The Courts cannot force Indians to not hate “Britishers”. Courts should not stop a Galileo to not “hurt sentiments” or not to disturb “public order, morality or decency” by stating that the “Earth revolves around the Sun” on the grounds that it was ‘heretical’ or ‘hateful’ toward a community or a scripture.

The Courts should understand that any truth may first sound ‘heretical’, divisive or hateful. But later it may be established and even accepted by the society. Curbing ‘heresy’ amounts to curbing ‘new ideas’ and a refresh and reset of society from time to time.

There was a time when the Church had decided ‘that the idea that the sun moved around the earth was an absolute fact of scripture that could not be disputed”.

However, even in church, no one finds it heretical any more to say that Earth is not the centre of the universe.

The facts of Earth and Sun have established themselves in society.

FoS means allowing even the most ludicrous of ideas to be uttered, spoken or written. That does not mean, acts of violence are allowed too. The operative words are “spoken’ or ‘written’, not ‘acted’.

It is amusing to read about one observation made by Justice Joseph. He observed: “…in debates, one needs to see the role of the anchor. How one listens when others speak…check in the TV debates the percentage of time taken by anchor to speak. They mute the speaker and ask questions.”

It seems Courts are watching too much of Arnab Goswami debates. However, one is tempted to say that it is not the job of the Court to train anchors to do their job. Tomorrow, they would have to prepare a code on how an animal is fed in a zoo. The public and the markets will train the anchors. And if any rules are needed, Parliament is empowered to bring them in and a separate ministry is already in place. It is not the court’s job.

Justice Chandrachud observed: “Your client is doing a disservice to the nation and is not accepting India is a melting point of diverse culture. Your client needs to exercise his freedom with caution.”

The Courts should not assume the power to force someone to believe in a particular “esoteric” idea. Someone may believe India to be a melting pot, someone else may view it as a “pot” that has been snatched away by others. Both should have the same freedom of expression. Directing people’s thoughts amounts to behaving like a dictatorship on the lines of a Communist China.

In India’s native, age-old culture there has been no concept of heresy, censorship or blasphemy. Everything was allowed. Even ‘Dev-ninda’ was given a reasonable space and there has been no provision of death penalty in Indian history for ‘dev-ninda’ as has been the case in West.

However, after having been de-rooted, we adopted the idea of freedom of expression from the same West. Here too, we could do it only partly. Owing to the specific circumstances, our constitution builders did put a few conditions on FoS in the form of clause (2) of Article 19 1 (a). It states: “Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”.

This conditionality of “reasonable restrictions” is what confuses everyone. In an ideal society, there should be no reasonable or unreasonable restriction on FoE.

A common citizen has problems understanding the importance of allowing FoE to someone opposed to his or her ideas. However, if the Supreme Court too shows problems in appreciating the importance of FoE and the need to protect it from the whims and fancies of any wing of state, including judiciary, that would be unfortunate.

We can only hope that the people of this country will slowly understand the role played by FoE in advancement of any society and this world.

And yes, shouting slogans of “tukde, tukde” or shouting slogans for “secession’ without “any act of seceding” too should be allowed.

There is a line between ‘speech’ and ‘act’. Speech must be allowed. Act can be curbed.

While a Rahat Indori should be free to write : “kisi ke baap ka hindustan thodi hai”, someone else should also be free to write: “tumhare baap ka hindustan thodi hai.”

An Arundhati Roy must have the right to write in big, bold letters: “I Secede” as she did in Outlook magazine after nuclear tests. And a Sudarshan TV too should have the right to present facts and arguments on “UPSC Jehad”

Why is it that the former is viewed as progressive by most of the people and institutions and even lauded as revolutionary and path-breaking, while the latter is viewed as regressive, hateful and divisive?

Isn’t being regressive, hurtful and divisive in speech too allowed under “FoS”?

Is the concept of FoS so difficult to understand?


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