By Dr. M. Iqbal Siddiqui
The Supreme Court, in Union of India v/s Motion Pictures Association, held that Free Speech is the foundation of a democratic society. Free exchange of ideas, dissemination of information without restraints, dissemination of knowledge, airing of different viewpoints, debating and forming one’s own views and expressing them, are the basic ideas of a free society. This freedom alone makes it possible for people to formulate their own views and opinions on proper bases and to exercise their social, economic and political rights in an informed manner. Restraints on this right have been jealously watched by courts. (AIR 1999 SC 2334)
Our Constitution guarantees justice, liberty and equality to all citizens. It also guarantees certain rights, which are known as fundamental rights. In theory, we are a Democratic, Secular, Socialist Republic, but in practice, the situation seems to be different. Now democracy has been rendered to a rule of the majority, by the majority and for the majority. As far as secularism is concerned, it has become too blurred to be visible. Almost every government office has a Hindu temple. Every government event begins with Hindu religious rites, i.e. Bhumi Pujan, Saraswati Vandana, etc. The minority communities, especially the Muslims face discrimination in services every now and then. Certain Hindutva groups suggest to the majority community not to tolerate the very existence of minorities.
The fundamental rights of the citizens are frequently denied by the authorities and very often by government agencies. Some laws made by the central and state governments also violate the rights of the citizens, such as UAPA, sedition laws and the state laws against following religion of one’s choice.
Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression: Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution assures the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens. Though the right is not absolute, still it provides its citizens the right to express one’s own ideas, thoughts and opinions freely through writing, printing, pictures, gestures, spoken words or any other manner. It includes the right to propagate one’s views through print media or through any other means of communication and so, also the freedom of the press and media.
Whether the British or the Indian, those in power never tolerate a voice against their rule and deeds. Every voice that exposes the anti-people or anti-constitutional face of the government, is suppressed either by the draconian laws like UAPA and Section 124 A of the IPC, or by ‘silencing it for ever’. A number of innocent people, human rights activists, RTI activists, writers, journalists are languishing in jails only for speaking truth, while some others have been murdered for the same.
Recently, Disha Ravi, a climate and environment activist, was arrested for allegedly being involved in sharing a ‘toolkit’ on social media related to the farmers’ protest. This toolkit was meant to simplify and explain the farmers’ agitation to laypersons. But Delhi Police accused Ravi of being involved with preparing the ‘toolkit’ with those advocating Khalistan and was part of a global conspiracy to defame India and create unrest in the country in the garb of farmers’ protest. She was also accused of disseminating the ‘toolkit’ in the form of a Google doc. According to the police, the ‘toolkit’ was instrumental in leading to violence that broke out on January 26 when protesting farmers clashed with cops at the Red Fort. This is an example of the situation of this right in the country as well as a number of others.
Media: Media is considered the fourth pillar of democracy. Independent media and quality journalism are considered the ‘watchdog’ of a democratic society. The fundamental objectives of the media are to inform, educate and entertain the masses.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar stated in the Constituent Assembly, “The press is merely another way of stating an individual or a citizen. The press has no special rights which are not to be given or which are not to be exercised by the citizen in his individual capacity. The editor of a press or the manager are all citizens and therefore when they choose to write in newspapers, they are merely exercising their right of expression; and in my judgment therefore no special mention is necessary of the freedom of the press at all.”
Media has played an important role in the freedom movement. It has been the voice of the voiceless, hope of the oppressed and a bridge between the rulers and the ruled. But unfortunately the media nowadays informs what the governments and the ‘powerful’ prescribe, and educates the masses to surrender before the will of the rulers. It educates that a child’s head can be replaced with that of an elephant, it educates that the ruling party has taken the country to the highest level of progress and entertains them with either nudity and vulgarity or orthodoxy and superstitions. Now instead of showing truth, the media shows ‘what is marketable’, now earning is more important to the media houses than the public concern.
In many cases media decides before the courts give their verdict, that a person is the real culprit and media trials are opened, which ruin the career of an innocent. Several persons declared culprits by the media, have been later acquitted by the courts. Still there is a part of media that dares to show truth. But often they have to face grave consequences, they are intimidated through the ED and other government agencies, their licences are cancelled and their office bearers are arrested on false charges. When a journalist refuses to write what is demanded, he is detained and his house raided for no reason, then released after two years of physical and mental torture, following the mass protest by the journalist fraternity.
Police: The main job of the police is to ascertain the compliance and enforcement of the law, and maintain law and order among the citizens. The Indian police stations bear the slogan: “Trust among the common people, fear among criminals”, which is what is exactly expected by the police. But the truth is almost reverse. A common man is afraid of going to a police station to file a complaint, while criminals are quite assured that no harm can be done to them by the police. In many cases it is seen that the complainant becomes the accused. Indeed, the rulers have always used the police to suppress their opponents. Many times the police have arrested the victim for raising voice against the rulers or their rich coterie, false cases have been filed against them under the draconian laws, and tortured physically.
A criminal often escapes the charges by paying bribe to the officers. Even an innocent is asked to pay in order to escape the false charges he may face. It is the right of the citizens to move freely in the country, assemble and protest, but one has to seek permission from the police to do so. Then where is the freedom and what kind of a right is this? The police every now and then impose Section 144 of CrPC to bar people from gathering to express their views and put forth their demands. During the anti-CAA/NRC protests, a number of persons were arrested on false charges, even UAPA was imposed on them.
Whenever some brave and honest police officer dares to stand by the truth, he is dealt with like a criminal. He faces departmental enquiries, transfers, suspension and termination from his job.
Judiciary: The last hope of the oppressed has always been the Judiciary. In India, the Judiciary has been kept independent and free from any influence of the government, as justice is above all. It is the Judiciary that safeguards the citizens against any oppression and injustice. In the past, the Judiciary of our country has delivered very bold verdicts against very powerful and influencing individuals and even against the governments.
A number of times, it has ensured the common man their right to speak and express. It is still the last resort for the citizens. Had there not been the courts of law, there would have been anarchy in the country. Today, it is the greatest responsibility of the courts to defend the Constitution and the rights of the citizens guaranteed by it, to protect the brave people who raise their voices against injustice and tyranny, without being influenced by the rulers or their rich coterie. However, the rulers have tried to influence the Judiciary from time to time and recently, they have tried to interfere in the appointment of the Judges. Now it is upon the Judiciary at all levels to protect the Constitution and its values, the democracy and the secular structure of the country, as the people in power are seen keen on destroying them all.