The Constitution of India provided freedom of speech and expression although it is not absolute. Article 19 guarantees to every citizen of India the freedom of speech and expression. However, the Constitution also allows the Government of India to limit this freedom of speech and expression in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, the security of the state and maintain friendly relations with the foreign countries and also to maintain public order, morality, and decency or concerning contempt or defamation of the Court. There are several sections and articles mentioned in the Constitution that criminalize certain speech.
The Indian Government has used these laws to ban books such as Salman Rushied’s novel The Satanic Verses, movies such as India’s Daughter, a documentary film by Leslee Udwin for the BBC based on the 2012 gang rape of a Delhi student. To quash the rebellion, the Bristshers criminalized Sedition under section 124 of the IPC, which states whoever by words either spoken or written or any other visual representations brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt towards the Government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment of life.
For example, section 153A criminalizes promoting any enmity between groups of people on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, etc, and doing any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony either by words written or spoken or by any visual representation. Section 292 criminalizes obscenity in any form. Section 295A criminalizes any deliberate and malicious act to hurt the religious sentiments of any class of society. Section 298 criminalizes the uttering of any word or making of any sound with the deliberate intention of hurting the religious feelings of any particular section of the society or person.
The charges on sedition have recently been multiplied as a way to curb free speech and expression and the critics on the government. As per the census of 2014, India’s Records Bureau has recorded around 47 alleged cases in nine states of India. A folk singer, students cheering at a cricket match, and the famous author Arundhati Roy are some people who have been charged under sedition. Kanhayia Kumar, a leading student activist of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, was also charged with sedition under political circumstances.
Censorship is also a form of physical intimidation. In January 2015, Perumal Murugan, a celebrated Tamil author posted on his Facebook page that Perumal Murugan, the writer, is dead. He declared literary suicide after he was hounded by the local chapters of the right-wing Hindu groups affiliated with BJP and RSS, who found passages in his novel One Part Women as offensive. After receiving threat calls and watching people burn the copies of his novel he decided to apologize and withdraw the copies from a sale.
Defamation is another way to silence free speech. Sections 499 and 500 criminalize defamation in such a broad sense that anyone can claim to be aggrieved by something said or written about them. This includes corporations that do not hesitate to sue journalists, authors, and activists and claim for the damages that no organisation can afford. According to the Index on Censorship, in 2014, seven legal notices of defamation were served in India: five to media companies, including publishing houses; one to a marketing federation; and one to journalists Subir Ghosh, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, and Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri for a book on Reliance Industries Ltd., India’s biggest corporation, run by Mukesh Ambani. Reliance sought one billion rupees as the damages. The environmental journalist Keya Acharya was also slapped by a defamation suit of one billion by the industrialist Sai Rama Krishna Karaturi.
FREEDOM OF PRESS IN INDIA:
Indian media has increasingly become concentrated in the hands of powerful, rich, and family-owned organisations. High profile journalists whose views do not match and toe the new line are pushed and forced to quit their jobs. Self-censorship by journalists is a growing problem in India and those who speak up regularly face threats and harassment. Thus one can say that India has become a dangerous place for journalists. In February 2016, The Committee to Protect Journalists was formed, when two journalists working for the BBC, was forced to flee to Chhattisgarh after threats to their lives, and lawyers for imprisoned journalists were evicted from their offices. CPJ said that it had documented a pattern of the police in Chhattisgarh abusing, threatening, and harassing the journalists to silence their reporting.
Then are the journalists who are killed for their reporting. Reporters Without Borders documented that nine journalists were killed in India in 2015, five while doing their job. These deaths confirm India’s position as one of the deadliest countries after Pakistan and Afghanistan for media personnel. In 2017 two journalists were shot dead only in a 24hour time period. Shock waves had rippled across the nation when the famous journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her apartment in Bengaluru.
Every citizen of India enjoys the Right to freedom and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. Expressing one’s views and opinions is the right of every citizen and they can circulate and publicise them either by advertisements or audio-visuals. Reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the right to freedom and expression under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
The rights which are granted under Article 19(1) are not absolute and can be restricted in the case of National Security and the interests of society.