Article 19 of the Indian constitution gives every citizen of India the right to freedom of speech and expression. With regard to this particular section of the Indian constitution, 2016 has witnessed a lot of controversies and prolonged public discussions so far. The recent incident in JNU sparked this debate once again. On 11 October when the whole nation celebrated Dussehra, a section of JNU students chose to burn the effigy of our prime minister to mark their protest. The NSUI, a congress backed student party set aflame the effigy of Prime minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah who is the President of the BJP. Effigies of the JNU Vice Chancellor Jagadesh Kumar,Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Sadhvi Pragya, Nathuram Godse and Asaram Bapu were also burnt to mark protest.
Sunny Dhiman of NSUI said “The effigy-burning was to symbolize our dissatisfaction with the current government. The idea is to root out the evil from governance and bring about a system that is pro-student and pro-people. NSUI also accused the Prime Minister for ‘Politicizing’ the feburary 9 incident that took place in JNU.
On Feburary 9 a protest was organized by JNU students against the killing of 2001 parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and terrorist Maqbool bhatt. The protest took a drastic turn when anti Indian slogans like “Hindustan Murdabad” and “Pakistan Zindabad” filled the air. Several students were charged with sedition along with JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar. This incident later on turned out to be a grossly debatable issue on freedom of speech and expression. Various sections of media and political parties were divided on the basis of their view points and outlook about the issue.
The effigies were burnt at the famous Saraswati Dhaba, situated in the JNU campus. However the JNU administration denied and backed off from giving permission for any such protest.
Here’s a video of the whole incident:
This aforementioned incident along with the other protests relating to JNU students have raised serious questions on the freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of speech is a constitutionally guaranteed and constitutionally protected right under Article 19(1)(a) bestowed upon every citizen of India. However, it is not an absolute right. Hence, it is the need of the hour to understand that though this is a fundamental right, this right comes with certain restrictions.
A restriction on free speech comes under the following circumstances:
I. Security of the State
II. Friendly Relations with Foreign States
III. Public Order
IV. Decency and Morality
V. Contempt of Court
VII. Incitement to an Offence, and
VIII. Sovereignty and Integrity of India
Certainly, the recent incidents which took place in JNU fail to fall in the category of Freedom of speech and Expression and therefore attract restrictions as mentioned above. Even the High court of India booked the students involved in the protest of feburary 9 for their unconstitutional protests. The Supreme court’s verdict on Arundhati Roy case clears all the doubts whether this protest is worthy of support or criticism.
“In a landmark judgment by supreme court of India on march 6, 2002 Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy was found guilty of contempt of court for raising slogans against court’s decision in the supreme court premises. It was a symbolic imprisonment of one day and a fine of Rs. 2000. In 2010 she was once again booked under sedition charges for giving an anti-national speech in Delhi.”
Given this background, it becomes an important question:
Lowering the dignity of the Supreme Court was found to be an offense, but is it alright under the blanket of freedom of speech and expression to lower the dignity of our nation by jeering anti-national slogans against the very sovereignty and integrity of the nation?
It is a hard truth that the time when the nation is struggling to recover from the brutal Uri attacks that cost the lives of 19 Indian soldiers, where soldiers are constantly facing threats of attacks on the borders every minute, our nation is internally debating on the basic idea of freedom of speech and expression.
It’s now high time for everyone of us to understand and accept that.
Freedom of speech is not a license to abuse. It is a RESPONSIBILITY.