Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Beleaguered freedom of expression

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Today we will try to analyse different aspects of freedom of speech and why this particular freedom still generates so much difference and controversies.

Today with me is our political analyst Mr. Awadhesh Kumar and both of us will try to take a look at why freedom of speech is so vulnerable and why it is so much misunderstood too.

Thanks Arunima, thank you for having me here. As you rightly said, freedom of speech in our country is not only often misunderstood, but is also mistaken and misconstrued. And due to difference in understanding, there come different angles to look at it and that creates several controversies.

The Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan on Saturday gave his nod to the ordinance promulgated by the state government that empowers it to punish ‘making, expressing, publishing or disseminating’ of any matters which could be construed as being ‘threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory. How do you view this?

Frankly, in my opinion, this is a highly retrograde step that takes us back to the point where the debate on freedom of speech begins. You may recall that in 2015 itself, the Supreme Court in its judgement regarding section 66A of the IT Act had also struck down a similar provision of Kerala Police Act for violating the right to freedom of speech and expression and for its lack of clarity. I am afraid, this ordinance takes us back to square one as the approach of this ordinance too is quite similar.

Even in that section, the Kerala law had provisions for imprisonment of upto 3 years for causing annoyance in an indecent manner by statements or sending messages or mail by any means. _

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On the other hand, Section 66A of IT Act made it criminal to send any communication electronically that was grossly offensive, had menacing character or annoyed or caused inconvenience to someone or posed danger, obstruction, insult, injury or caused enmity or hatred.

The newly approved ordinance too is quite similar in nature. Internet Freedom Foundation too has said that it is nothing but a replica of the erstwhile Section 66A. It also said that it poses a threat to freedom of speech and expression. I think what they are saying makes perfect sense._

Lately, we have seen that several state governments have faced criticism for having taken action against journalists. These actions are being seen as coercive and violative of freedom of speech. We have an example of Arnab Goswami in Maharashtra as well as Meghalaya based journalist Patricia Mukhi who is facing a criminal case for a Facebook post. Why are so many journalists facing the heat when it comes to freedom of speech?

Yes, Patricia’s case, as well as Arnab Goswami’s case, though both are completely different, do throw up the same important issue. That of general lack of understanding of freedom of speech.

One thing that most people fail to understand is that freedom always comes with the permission to violate boundaries. I mean if you tell me that I am free to say anything, and then if you go on defining, what are the things that I cannot say, I do not think you are giving me any freedom. If you tie a child’s leg and then tell him that he is free to go anywhere, I don’t think that is freedom of movement. Freedom means I am free to hurt your feelings, sentiments or views. I cannot exercise my right only to please someone and still say that I am free. One is free to speak only if he can speak things that are going against what others believe in. Freedom to please someone or everyone is no freedom. Freedom to hurt someone or everyone is real freedom.

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