All citizens shall have the right
- to freedom of speech and expression;
- to assemble peaceably and without arms;
- to form associations or unions;
- to move freely throughout the territory of India;
- to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
- to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business
The Right To Freedom Of Speech And Expression as per the Indian Constitution – means the right to express one’s own convictions and opinions freely.
- The word “freely” means the freedom of a citizen to express his views and opinion in any conceivable means including by words of mouth, writing, printing, banners, signs, and even by way of silence.
- The Supreme Court of India has held that the participation in sports in an expression of one’s self and thus it is a form of freedom of speech
- The Supreme Court has also held that hoisting the National Flag by citizens is a form of freedom of speech and expression (see Union Of India vs Naveen Jindal & Anr on 23 January, 2004).
- Freedom of Press is an inferred right implicit under Article 19(1)(a)
- The Right To Information(RTI) emerges as a fundamental right under article 19(1)(a) as freedom of speech and expression are meaningless without access to information
- The right to political dissent
Restrictions – Under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India, the State may make a law imposing “reasonable restrictions” on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression “in the interest of” the public on the following grounds:
- Security of State
- Friendly relations with foreign states
- Public Order
- Decency or morality
- Contempt of Court
- Incitement to an offense Sovereignty and integrity of India
How free are Indians to express themselves?
Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution makes the “right to freedom of speech and expression” a fundamental right. But it is not an absolute right; there are qualifiers.
What are those qualifiers?
The First Amendment to the Constitution, made on June 18, 1951, states that “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with Foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence” will be paramount and freedom of expression will not be unconditional.
What led to the amendment?
Journalist Romesh Thapar’s left-leaning magazine Cross Roads had been banned for being critical of Nehru’s policies in Madras. Thapar challenged the ban in the Supreme Court, which lifted the ban in May 1951. After that, independent India’s first government added the caveat to the right to freedom of speech and expression.
How does the constitutional position get reflected in laws ?
The Indian Penal Code has several clauses that make it contingent upon the person “expressing” himself or herself not to hurt sentiments or cause public discord, something that is open to interpretation.
Section 153A: Deals with words, spoken or written, or representations that promote disharmony and feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between groups. The penalty is 3 years in jail and/or fine.
Section 292: Makes obscene publications (book, paper, pamphlet, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure or any object) an offence. The penalty is 2 years (first conviction) or 5 years (second conviction), and/or fine.
Section 295A: Criminalises “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings, including words, signs, visible representations”; entails 3 years and/or fine.
Section 298: Penalises the “utterance of words” that might hurt the religious feelings of any person; the penalty is 1 year and/or fine.
There are other laws including the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act of 1986, and the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act enacted to protect specific sections from representations and speech which they find offensive or which mocks or insults them.
How does the law address new, technology-enabled forms of expressing oneself?
The IT Act of 2000 has been the subject of much debate. Its Section 66A defines the punishment for sending “offensive” messages through a computer or any other communication device such as a mobile phone or a tablet, a conviction fetching a maximum of three years in jail and a fine. What is offensive, however, is subject to interpretation. The Supreme Court has been looking at the section’s constitutional validity for nearly a year now and said last month that it lacks clarity and is open to misuse.