On the freedom of speech, expression

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On the freedom of speech, expression

Monday, 20 December 2021 | JS Rajput

On the freedom of speech, expression

The right has been provided for in the Constitution, but it comes with responsibilities. It is to be exercised under reasonable restrictions

The moral fibre and ethical conduct of a people is put to test in tough times; it could be a war, pandemic, natural disaster or national tragedy. Over the years, India has witnessed frequent and upsetting instances of decay in decency and decorum, as also in morals and ethics in public life. This is, however, defended in Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution: “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.” Vested interests invariably ignore completely the well-established fact that it is not an absolute right; it is to be exercised under reasonable restrictions. Conscious of its possible misuse, the Constitution makers allowed the Government to frame laws to ensure its use only in the right spirit, and under no conditions in a manner that could in any way jeopardise the integrity and sovereignty of India.

In the last couple of years, we have witnessed blatant and shameless misuse of these provisions ; some young people went to the extent of shouting slogans in public: “Bharat tere tukde honge” and, not surprisingly, found prominent political luminaries supporting them. An analysis of their support base would indicate it emanates from amongst those who just cannot think beyond electoral advantage even at the cost of adversely impacting the impressionable minds. The increase in the freedom of expression may be seen in social media where there are practically no restrictions, and even vulgar language can be used without any hesitation. Two instances of the recent past could be an eye-opener to the uninitiated.

Could Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, or JP, ever imagine a former Chief Minister publicly stating that let the PM stay in Varanasi for a couple of months, as people do in their last days? Could a junior Union Minister pounce upon a journalist and abuse him? Could he ever think how Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya would have reacted? A wrong is a wrong even if the whole world endorses it. One is indeed worried how irresponsible utterance and uncivilised behaviour in public life would impact the lives of young people. The manner an elected representative expressed his views on rape victims in the Karnataka Assembly on December 15, 2021, and the way most MLAs were seen enjoying it shall make everyone hang his head in shame. Did the MLA and his colleagues ever ascertain how it would impact the adolescents? Talk to teachers of any stage, they will come out on why unacceptable behavioural changes are taking place in their institutions. Over the last five decades, the manner Parliament and Assembly proceedings are impacting young behaviour requires serious study, analysis and a consequent rethink.

In this background, let one painfully recall the tragic helicopter crash that extinguished the life of CDS General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 12 other defence personnel. It shook the entire nation; people of India have so much faith in our defence systems and personnel. People wondered whether there could be a lapse in the flight protocol, or if it was just a natural disaster. It was indeed so poignant that the departure of this distinguished couple saddened every family, from the little ones to the elderly. While the tragedy shocked every right-thinking Indian, there was something extremely disgusting, too. The so-termed social media revealed the ugly face of certain fringe elements that survive on defaming India and its armed forces. Their venomous presence circulated in the social media as they rejoiced and celebrated the heart-wrenching departure of India’s first CDS. Obviously, such observations could come from the enemies of India, from outside India. It hurts far more when, in the name of freedom of expression, insensitive utterances come from within! It is no secret that certain elements have social unrest, communal tensions and even vulcanisation of India on their agenda.

Sadly enough, such acts and actions are encouraged and sponsored by frustrated elements that are keen on getting political advantage. They do not understand how to get to the set of power following the right path indicated by Dr Ambedkar who had very clearly stated that in framing the Constitution, they were not merely “laying down a mechanism to enable people to come and capture power”; it was much more than that. Every right has a corresponding duty. When Gandhiji was consulted on the Draft of the World Charter of Human Rights, which was being framed by the Unesco in its initial years, he wrote to Director General Julian Huxley: “The very right to live accrues to us only when we do the duty of citizenship of the world. Every other right can be shown to be usurpation hardly worth fighting for.” Interestingly, in this very letter, Gandhiji had also mentioned who initiated him in these views: “I learnt from my illiterate but wise mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved came from duty well done.” Clearly, learning begins at home, continues in schools and colleges, and this prepares one for lifelong learning; the most emphasised objective of education in the 21st century. The right to freedom of speech mentioned in Article 19(1) (a) has to be coupled with the fundamental duties contained in Article 51(A) of the Fundamental Duties, which was not included in the original Constitution.

(The author works in education, social cohesion and religious amity. The views expressed are personal.)

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