John Milton rightly said “Give me the liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties”. Since the existence of humanity, humans have always craved for the freedom of expression but reasonable restrictions and censorship came as a universal phenomenon. In the making of the Indian Constitution, the drafters analyzed this conflict between the rights and the restrictions and hence Article 19 of the Indian Constitution clearly mentions right of expression with reasonable restrictions. This right is not absolutely permissible and therefore permissible limits of reasonable restriction on expression.
Judiciary has played a role in reconciliation of freedom against the certain imperatives of reasonable restriction in the interest of national security, public order, public health and morals and the individual rights such as right to reputation and privacy. The Indian Judiciary has strived through the judgments to create a balance between Freedom of Speech and Expression and reasonable restrictions. There are several landmark judgments which have correctly distinguished what actions fall under freedom of expression and the reasonable restrictions.
Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution states that “ all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. This right has been bestowed upon individuals under the Constitution which rests upon underlined philosophy given the preamble that the citizen must have liberty of thought and expression.
The right under Art.19(1)(a) is only available to the Indian Citizen and not to the foreign nationals.
This right includes one’s right to express his views and opinions at any given issue through any medium i.e. written words, print, picture, film, mouth etc.
However, the right is not absolute and there are certain restrictions imposed by the government in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality and contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence.
The article also imposes action upon the state to protect citizen’s fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression and if not done so, would constitute violation of Art,19(1)(a).
Through Judicial Wisdom, the courts have pronounced the judgments and have widened the scope of freedom of speech and expression by incorporating the following aspects in it:
Freedom of Press
Right to Information
Right to Criticize
Right to Broadcast
Right to Commercial Speech
Right to Expression beyond national boundaries
Right not to speak or Right to Silence is also included in the Freedom of Speech and Expression
Since the Freedom of Speech and Expression is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions, the court has defined following aspects, which falls under the reasonable restriction:
Public Order- The ground was added to the Indian Constitution after the First Amendment in 1951, which connotes public peace, safety and tranquility. However, disturbing public peace does not mean disturbing public order.
Security of the State- Any serious or aggravated forms of public disorder, like rebellion, waging war against the state, insurrection etc. are the acts that disturbs the security of the state. Reasonable restrictions can be imposed in the interest of the security of the state.
Decency and Morality- The term Decency and Morality is defined under section 292 and 294 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 which provides instances of restriction on the freedom of speech and expression on the ground of decency and morality. For Example- Distribution or Exhibition of obscene words or pictures falls under the scope of the section. Supreme Court in Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra (AIR 1965 SC 881) upheld the conviction of a bookseller who was prosecuted under Section 292, I.P.C., for selling and keeping the book Lady Chatterley's Lover.
Contempt of Court- The expression has been defined under section 2 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The term contempt of court refers to civil contempt or criminal contempt under the Act. The right guaranteed under the Constitution does not allow any person to commit contempt of court.
Incitement to an Offence- The ground was added to the Indian Constitution after the First Amendment in 1951 and prohibits any person who by his words or action tries to incite people to commit offence.
Friendly relation with Foreign Nation- The ground was added to the Indian Constitution after the First Amendment in 1951. The State has the power to restrict the freedom of speech and expression if it hampers the friendly relation of India with other states.
Sovereignty and Integrity of India-The ground was added to the Indian Constitution after the Sixth Amendment in 1963. The expression strives to prohibit anyone from making statements that challenge the integrity and sovereignty of India.
The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under Indian Constitution, and as well in the international conventions like Universal declaration of Human rights, International convention on Civil and Political Rights. The right has been widely interpreted to include Freedom of Press, Freedom of Commercial Speech, Right to Broadcast, Right to Information, Right to Criticize, Right to expression beyond national boundaries, Right not to speak or Right to silence etc.
Keywords - Constitution of India, Article 19, Freedom of Speech and Expression, Right to Free Speech, Freedom of press, Right to Information, Human rights
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