Article 19 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the ‘Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression’. Freedom of speech and expression occupies a preferred and an important position in our constitution because preamble of the Indian Constitution itself guarantees to its citizens the ” Liberty of thought, expression , belief , faith and worship and there is no wrong in saying that freedom of speech and expression is the mother of all the liberties. Right to freedom of speech is the essence of the society and it must be safeguarded all the time. India is one of the largest democratic countries in the world where democracy can survive only if there is free and fair exchange of ideas.
Meanwhile, the Constitution of India also allows the government to limit freedom of speech and expression in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India related to contempt of court, decency or morality and defamation, incitement to an offence, in security of the state, for friendly relation with Foreign States and in public order. Article 19(1)(a) guarantees freedom of speech and expression to the citizen of India but such speech should always be within permissible limits prescribed under Article 19(2) . However, spreading lies and falsehoods or creating a sense of hatred against someone should be counted as an infringement of free speech. There are several sections in Indian penal code which criminalizes such speeches like Section 292 which criminalizes obscenity. Section 153 A which criminalizes promoting enmity between different groups of religion, race, place of birth or residence etc. And, there are couple of examples where Indian government used such laws even to ban movies like India’s Daughter (A 2015 documentry film based on 2012 gangrape of Delhi collage student) and also on books such as ” The Satanic Verses – A Novel by Salman Rushidie.
Origin of Freedom of Speech and Expression :-
The concept of freedom of speech got originated a long back. The idea of fundamental rights derived from the Bill of Rights in the American Constitution. Furthermore, The French Revolution in 1789 adopted the declaration of Rights of man and citizen. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that, as adopted in the Year 1948, also states that everyone should have the freedom to express thier ideas and opinions. This further affirmed the freedom of speech as undeniable right. Also, on March 1947 a proposal was put forth by Dr.BR Ambedkar that no law shall be made which restrictes the freedom of speech, press, association and assembly, except by certain restrictions imposed in the interest of public order or morality.
Meaning of Freedom of Speech and Expression :-
The Right to freedom of speech and expression is meant for the right to express one’s convictions, opinions by various mediums like Writing, Painting or visible representations such as gesture, sign and like or dislike. It also includes to criticize public affairs of the Government, even its defense policy and conduct of Armed forces. Freedom of expression also includes publication and thus, freedom of press also included in this category. Freedom of press constitutes one of the pillars of democracy which lies at the foundation of democratic organizations. The Constitution of India affirms the right to freedom of expression which includes the right to voice one’s opinion, the right to seek and share ideas and information and the right to receive and impart information. Several cases like Brij Bhushan vs. State of Delhi (1950) in which SC held that everyone in the Land should be free to share one’s own ideas and thoughts, as long as, it does not invite anyone to violence. Similarly, in Ramesh vs State of Madras, the Supreme Court held that freedom of speech and expression includes freedom to propogate ideas which is ensured by freedom of circulation of a publication is of littile value without ciculation.
Grounds of Reasonable Restrictions
India is a democratic country and in every democratic country, there lies several fundamental Rights, as well. In order to maintain and preserve the Fundamental Rights, it is necessary to place some reasonable restrictions for maintenance of social order. Article 19(2) specifies the grounds to which reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression can be imposed.
(a) Sovereignty and Integrity of India :-
This ground was added under Article 19(2) by the 16th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1963 to safeguard the freedom of speech and expression from being used to attack the integrity and soverignty of the Union of India.
(b) Security of State :-
The term ‘Security of State’ refers only to serious and aggravated forms of public disorder; for example rebellion, waging war against the state, riots etc. It would, thus, comprised of internal and external agression both. Under Article 19(2), reasonable restrictions can be imposed on freedom of speech and expression in the interest of security of the State.
(c) Friendly Relations with Foreign States :-
This ground was added by 1st Constitutional Amendment Act, 1951. Reasonable restrictions may be imposed on freedom of speech and expression to prohibit unrestrained malicious propagandas against foreign states towards maintenance of good relation between States .
(d) Public Order :-
This ground was also added by the 1st Constitutional Amendment Act , 1951. The term ‘Public Order’ signifies the absence of disorder in contradiction to national outbreaks, Armed rebellion etc affecting the security of the State. Infact, the concept of Public Order is wider than the Security of the State. Public order is synonymous with public peace, safety and tranquility. Aricle 19(2) imposes restrictions on freedom of speech and expression on the above mentioned grounds.
(e) Decency and Morality :-
These terms have not fixed meanings rather they vary from time to time and society to society. Decency means the same – a lack of obscenty and Section 292 and 294 of the Indian Penal Code provides instances of restrictions on freedom of speech and expression in the intrest of decency and morality .
(f) Contempt of Court :-
The term ‘Contempt of Court’ is defined in Section 2 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 which provides that contempt of court may be either civil or criminal. Restriction on freedom of speech and expression can be imposed if it exceeds the reasonable and fair limits and amounts to contempt of Court.
(g) Defamation :-
The term Defamation is defined as an statement which injures and tarnishes someone’s reputation and image to lower him in estimation of right thinking member of the society. Section 499 and 500 of Indian Penal Code defines the offence of defamation.
(h) Incitement to an Offence :-
This ground was also added by the First Constitutional amendment Act, 1951. Freedom of speech and expression does not confer licence to incite people to commit offences. Sedition under 124 A of Indian Penal code is a good example of this, however, it is not mentioned in clause (2) of Article 19.
The Current Scenario of Fredom of Speech and Expression
If freedom of speech and expression is understood as the fredom to state, what one wants to say, then it is obviously not conducive to meaningful social behaviour. There are so many examples, we have in this 2019 election alone, the spreading of hate speeches against a particular community or caste and religion by masses. Also, free speech in India came under attack on all fonts in this period of time. There was no respite from the killings and attacks on media professionals, an unprecedented numbers of legal notices, defamation and sedition cases filed against Journalists, social and political activists and citizens who voiced against the Government policies. The Media is too much inclined towards the spreading of false news and wrong information to the masses. There is a couple of examples like in January 2019, many JNU students charged with sedition, which was politically motivated. later on, Court refused the Chargesheet and slammed Delhi Police. Charges of Sedition have recently got multiplied in India as a way to curb out free speech and to intimidate government critics and thus it becomes alarming situation for democracy. It is important that such methods be curbed out and laws passed be made stringent so that people do not misuse this right without substantive proof.
It is easily concluded that right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights and also a basic human right that must be given to the citizens of each country. Freedom of speech and expression lay the foundation of all democratic organizations and has been a boon granted to us. It is rightly said by John Milton that, ” Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties”. Therefore, a careful knowledgeable and fair use of freedom of speech will create a better society and helps in the welfare of state which builds a beautiful nation.