Next time when you land up on your Facebook wall and it asks you “What’s on your mind?”, think twice before answering the question and ask yourself whether you are really supposed to post whatever is on your mind. Such questions surely made us think as to what rights we have regarding expression and speech.
The Constitution of India under Article 19, clause (i), sub-clause (a) confers upon its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression which is in conformity with the ideal of liberty stated in the Constitution.
The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech and expression. But the State is empowered in Article 19(1)(b) to impose reasonable restrictions on this freedom relating to
a) The sovereignty and integrity of India
b) The security of the State
c) Friendly relations with foreign States
d) Public Order
e) Decency or morality
f) Contempt of Court
h) Incitement to an offence
The following judgements coming for the Apex Court would be interesting to note:
1) Flying of the National Flag is a symbol of expression coming within the preview of Article 19(1)(a). [Union of India v. Naveen Jindal, (2004) 2 SCC 510 (para 37)].
2) A voter’s speech or expression in case of elections would include casting of votes, that is to say, a voter speaks out or expresses by casting vote. [Union of India v. Assn. for Democratic Reforms, AIR 2002 SC 2112; People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India, AIR 2003 SC 2363].
3) Right to Information is an integral part of freedom of expression, particularly a voter’s right to know the antecedents/assets of a candidate contesting elections. [People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India, AIR 2003 SC 2363; People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India, AIR 2004 SC 1442] and Right to know about government decisions and actions.[Dinesh Trivedi v. Union of India, (1997) 4 SCC 306].
4) Right to speech implies the right to silence. It implies freedom, not to listen, and not to be forced to listen. [Noise Pollution (V), In re, AIR 2005 Sc 1442].
5) Decency or morality is not confined to sexual morality alone. It indicates that the action must be in conformity with the current standards of behaviour or propriety. Hence, seeking votes at an election on the ground of the candidate’s religion in a secular state, is against the norms of decency and propriety of the society.[Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo (Dr.) v. Prabhakar Kashinath Kunte, (1996) 1 SCC 130 (paras 28 and 29) : AIR 1996 SC 1113].
Since no right is absolute in any modern state, this right must be coupled with duty. People must refrain from misusing this freedom. Violation of rights is inversely proportional to sense of duty, the more there is a sense of duty towards fellow beings the less there would be the violation of rights. Now, the question here is where does this sense of duty come from? Duties can only be perceived with a high sense of morality and therefore duty is directly proportional to morality. Next question that would obviously follow would be where does this sense of morality come from? To answer this I would say that it is indeed time to appreciate the idea of self restraint or self control which maintains the quotient of morality.
The deficiency of morality in Indian society can only be replenished by going back to the Holy Scriptures and creating an environment of realization of duty and practise of self restraint for the coming generations. However, I would like to be very clear about this synchronization of religion with modern society. This amalgamation should not be of religious practises and customs nor the laws propounded in various Holy Scriptures but it must be an amalgamation of ethics which form the basis of these Scriptures and are usually not taken care of. Indian society lacks a theoretical backing and hence it is being twisted by one and all and therefore it is need of the hour to cherish our heritage and our Constitution to save the society from degradation.
Amity Law School, New Delhi (GGSIPU)
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]