We live in a democratic nation. Abraham Lincoln has described democracy. He said, “Democracy is the Government of the people, for the people and by the people.” Being a democratic country, the citizens of India are guaranteed certain Fundamental Rights. Part III of our Constitution guarantees this. For a democracy to work, it is people should have a voice, an opinion and the power to express them. However, freedom without a restriction is also a bane. So, while to maintain the balance our Constitution makers inserted Article 19(1)(a). It gives the Freedom of Speech and Expression. Article 19(2) lays down the restrictions on this freedom. Theoretically, we have struck a perfect balance. However, striking the same balance in practice is what we are far from.
The author tries to analyze the conflict between theory and practice. This article highlights the contrasts that exist in our democracy.
Freedom of Press vis-a-vis Media Trials
Freedom of Speech and Expression guarantees the freedom to express one’s opinion. This may be in any form, be it written or verbal. This right is available only to the citizens of India. But, it is not an absolute right. The Government of India can impose restrictions on it. The restrictions should be justifiable, reasonable and in line with the Constitutional principles. The Government derives it is the power to impose restrictions from Article 19(2).
Judiciary has played a vital role in enhancing the scope of Freedom of Speech and Expression in India. For instance, the Constitution does not specify the Freedom of Press. The freedom of Press became a part of our Constitution in spirit by way of judicial activism. This is because the Press is the fourth pillar of democracy.
It plays a vital role in the formation of public opinion. They are essential for the democratic machinery as held in the case of Indian Express v. Union of India. This also means that they have a duty not to mislead the public.
There is a classic imbalance seen between Freedom of Press and the concept of Media Trials. Freedom guarantees the media to report the court proceedings. But, media trials act as a bane to this freedom. Media trials influence the public minds and disrupt the administration of justice. Moreover, misreporting of judgements by the media personnel has been a rampant issue, causing social unrest.
Freedom of Expression on the Internet
The Internet has become an essential part of our lives. Be it connecting us to the world, sharing our views and so on. However, it has also become a bane for a few individuals. Recently, a stand-up comedy video went viral on the Internet. The stand-up comedian quoted a Quora post that spoke about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The girl was not only hurled with abuses over the Internet but also received rape threats. Not only this, but certain politicians also took a stance that she should be arrested.
The whole controversy became a political and religious agenda. This was not what it was set out for. Not only the comedian but the organizers of the show were asked to shut down their premises. Their property was also damaged. The comedian Agrima Joshua apologized for her joke.
Our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, but to what extent. Here, there is a conflict between someone’s expression and someone’s religious beliefs. However, it is not justified to give rape threats to a woman under any circumstances. That is precisely why the restrictions are essential. It is also not justified to vandalize premises. We are a country that still has its law machinery intact. The Police arrested the person who posted a YouTube video giving rape threats. Such news comes as an assurance.
Freedom of Speech and Dissent
“Dissent is the safety valve of Democracy” ~ Supreme Court of India.
Dissent is the truest essence of democracy. It means raising your voice for something unjust. Something that you do not agree to. Something that you will not allow. Dissent comes at a considerable cost in a democracy.
An example of dissent is the Anti-CAA and Anti- NRC protests. Active Indians came together to protest against the law. But, there have always been hurdles in this path. The protestors were killed. Few of them were arrested and jailed, even during the nationwide lockdown. They were charged for making inflammatory speeches, rioting, obstructing public officials in their function and so on. Even the United Nations requested India to free anti-CAA activists. Such is the State of dissent in India.
This is a conflict between the State’s duty to maintain law and order and the citizen’s duty to speak against injustice. The ideal situation or solution does not exist. It is only to try and strike a balance to protect our rights. Moreover, law and order are preserved.
In a democracy, such conflicts will keep on arising. It is our duty as a country to devise mechanisms that lead to the least injury of rights if any.
The State of democracy in India is under threat. These incidents only act as a fair warning. However, we have hope for the youth of the nation. As the youth of the country, we must stand up for what is right and voice it. There are several videos over social media where the public speak out against wrongs.
Thus, this is a sign that we are aware of our rights. It must be our duty to protect democracy and its essence. Education is the key to driving away ignorance.
The State should also develop mechanisms that promote transparency. It is the lack of transparency that also leads to unrest. They use social media to address Government officials quickly. Nevertheless, it is efficiency is something that has not been proven yet. Some tweets or posts get way out of hand.
They become viral in minutes leading to the formation of polarised public opinions. Moreover, media has an essential role in the process. Reporting the facts without subjective bias is of utmost importance.
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