Freedom of Speech and expression means the right to express one’s own opinions freely through speech, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. In India, under Article 19(1), the Constitution of India guarantees all its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression.
However, this freedom is not absolute and under Article 19(2) reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the exercise of this right for certain purposes.
Significance of freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution:
Societal good: Liberty to express opinions and ideas without hindrance, and especially without fear of punishment plays a significant role in the development of a particular society and ultimately for that state. It is one of the most important fundamental liberties guaranteed against state suppression or regulation.
Self-development: Free speech is an integral aspect of each individual’s right to self-development and fulfilment. Restrictions inhibit our personality and its growth. The reflective mind, is conscious of options and the possibilities for growth. Freedom of speech is also closely linked to other fundamental freedoms. Thus, for the full-fledged development of personality, freedom of speech and expression is highly essential.
Democratic value: Freedom of speech is the bulwark of democratic Government. This freedom is essential for the proper functioning of the democratic process as it allows people to criticise the government In a democracy, freedom of speech and expression open up channels of free discussion of issues. Freedom of speech plays a crucial role in the formation of public opinion on social, political and economic matters.
Ensure pluralism: Freedom of Speech reflects and reinforces pluralism, ensuring that diversity is validated and promote the self-esteem of those who follow a particular lifestyle. Safeguards outlined under Article 19 (2): Article 19(2) allows the state to make laws that restrict freedom of speech so long as they impose reasonable restrictions in the:
Interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India: Sovereignty and integrity of India as a ground under Article 19 (2) was added by the 16 constitutional amendment act. This was a reaction to the tense situation prevailing in different parts of the country. Its objective is to give appropriate powers to impose restrictions against those individuals or organisations who want to make secession from India or disintegration of India for political purposes for fighting elections.
The security of the state: The term security of state refers only to serious and aggravated forms of public order e.g. rebellion, waging war against the State, insurrection and not ordinary breaches of public order and public safety. Thus speeches or expressions on the part of an individual, which incite or encourage the commission of violent crimes, such as murder are matters, which would undermine the security of the State.
Friendly relations with foreign states: This ground was added by the First Amendment Act, of 1951. The object behind the provision is to prohibit unrestrained malicious propaganda against a foreign-friendly state, which may jeopardise the maintenance of good relations between India, and that state. It is to be noted that members of the commonwealth including Pakistan not a foreign states for the purposes of this Constitution. The result is that freedom of speech and expression cannot be restricted on the grounds that the matter is adverse to Pakistan.
Decency or morality: Sections 292 to 294 of the Indian Penal Code provide instances of restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression in the interest of decency or morality. These sections prohibit the sale or distribution or exhibition of obscene words, etc. in public places. The standard of morality varies from time to time and from place to place.
Contempt of court: Restriction on the freedom of speech and expression can be imposed if it exceeds the reasonable and fair limit and amounts to contempt of court. According to Section 2 of Contempt of court, it may be either civil contempt or criminal contempt.
Defamation or incitement to an offence: A statement, which injures a man’s reputation, amounts to defamation. Defamation consists in exposing a man to hatred, ridicule, or contempt. Civil law in relation to defamation is still uncodified in India and subject to certain exceptions.
Need and significance of these safeguards
Social Balance: In a modern State, absolute and unrestricted individual rights cannot exist. Freedom is more purposeful if it is coupled with responsibility. Like any other freedom, the freedom of speech and expression has to be balanced with other social values. The liberty of the individual is not absolute and subject to the common good of all.
Public interest: Certain permitted prior restraints and restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression are made in the collective interest of society. Freedom of speech and expression has to be reconciled with the collective interest of society, which is known as public interest.
Other’s rights: Freedom of speech and expression is inherently restricted by the rights of other individuals in society. Any speech that can harm a large group of people and their rights needs restriction by the state. In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, Court held that reasonable restrictions should be such that others’ rights should not be hindered or affected by the acts of one man.
State security: Restrictions are needed in order to safeguard state security and its sovereignty. A speech may lead to secessionist tendencies and can be used against the state as a tool to spread hatred. Reasonable restrictions ensure, the security of the state and its citizens.
Way forward: The Constitution does not define the expression of reasonable restrictions. The following are some of the principles which the Supreme Court of India has affirmed in Narottamdas v. State of M.P. for ascertaining the reasonableness of restrictions:
Non-arbitrary: The phrase reasonable restriction connotes that the limitation imposed upon a person in the enjoyment of a right should not be arbitrary or of an excessive nature.
Nature of restriction: In determining the reasonableness of the statute, the court should see both the nature of the restriction and the procedure prescribed by the statute for enforcing the restrictions on individual freedom. Not only substantive but also procedural provisions of a statute also enter into the verdict of its reasonableness.
Objectivity: The reasonableness of a restriction has to be determined in an objective manner and from the standpoint of the interests of the general public and not from the point of view of persons upon whom the restrictions are imposed or upon abstract considerations.
Enforcing DPSP: A restriction that is imposed for securing the objects laid down in the Directive Principles of State Policy may be regarded as a reasonable restriction. India is a democracy and citizens have a constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech and expression which they can enforce via the Indian court system. The people of India gave themselves, the Constitution of India, and provided for freedom of speech and expression to ensure a free and equal society. The judiciary has upheld the restrictions that can be imposed but has also held that the government’s interference in this right has to also be kept in check. Freedom of Expression is among the foremost human rights.
Written By- Girish Mannotra
Lovely Professional University