We need to review our policy to curb free speech

The case against Sudarshan TV, which launched a program called “UPSC Jihad”, could be a test case following the Supreme Court’s free will. A three-judge bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud questioned the channel. Effectively restrict free speech in the media. Since someone calls it “hate speech”, is it a term that the courts have not yet defined, will it automatically qualify for a pre-broadcast ban?

The issue is confusing, with the bench suggesting that the offended party can intervene when it is a community rather than an individual. A news report quoted Justice Chandrachud as saying: “If this is a balance between free speech and a person’s dignity, we can tell him to go for a civil lawsuit. But here, a balance must be struck between free speech and society. “One would think that he is a powerless man who needs more protection than a community, which would be contrary to the 2017 orders of another bench, later headed by former Chief Justice of India Deepak Mishra, of which Justice Chandrachud was a part. The tribunal said there was no case for a ban. In that case, not even a small community was protected from Ilayya’s free speech rights .The community involved in the Sudarshan TV case is strong at 200 million.

Banning the airing of the remaining episodes of the show or reducing the channel editor’s right to air content means that he / she deems fit that free speech is subject to arbitrary censorship at the hands of the government or the judiciary. If offensive speech is not allowed, it must be more clearly defined for law enforcement to be effective or it must not violate the rules of free speech.

Unfortunately, India’s record on this matter provides little reason for consolation, with courts and executive cases deciding on the basis of who (or any group) is seeking a ban on a particular book, news item, film or TV show. The merits of the arguments in many of these cases are not always clear to observers.

India does not have blasphemy laws, but Article 19 (2) is so broad in terms of its executive capacity to curb libertarianism that it effectively imposes a sacred barrier when a community seems ready to take to the streets in protest. This indicates that communities that do not prevent blasphemy are in comparative negativity. Although some caste groups actually stage public protests against movies or books, it is very rare for people to create a ruckus in the streets in response, for example, which is perceived by some as respectable by the majority community in the country. Barbes who hurt religious sentiments break out in the name of free speech, and the consequences are dire in most cases, but we still have no well-established way to deal with the problem.

The point is: we may have a law that restricts free speech on certain clearly defined parameters that apply to all crimes of the same nature, no matter who the target is, or none at all (inciting violence is only criminal).

The Supreme Court would do well to use the Sudarshan TV case to clearly define what is blasphemy or hate speech. This requires clarity. The judiciary often makes extensive statements, even when it comes to curbing free speech on a case-by-case basis. The subjective diversity in India’s approach to free speech must end.

It may be a good time to reconsider Article 19 (2), which limits free speech by giving the executive and the judiciary endless reasons to shut people down. This article, introduced by the Nehru government shortly after the country adopted its constitution in 1950, considers the reduction of free speech in all of the following cases: “Interests in India’s sovereignty and integrity, state security, relations with friendly foreign states, contempt of court, decency or morality, or contempt of court. Incitement to harm or crime. “The first two factors and the last (India’s integrity, state security and incitement to violence)”), there are no other restrictions like “reasonable limits”.

It must be remembered that even in British India, where free speech for our colonial masters is not exactly a calling card, the leaders of Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar can make great statements about communities without falling for what they have said. . For example, both are on record as saying certain things, in special cases, about some community or another is commendable.

Raw generalizations are often made in public speech and have been around for a long time. In the words of Gandhi and Ambedkar some of the cases that came before the Supreme Court bench, however, are easy to sur sur as their community was asked to excise their statements.

R. Jagannathan is the Editorial Director of ‘Swarajya’ Magazine

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