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Freedom Of Speech And Expression: India vs. China

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By Bhaskar H. Narula:

In the present age of degeneration and regeneration where people have seen the Maoist adage- “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” come true, the commoners of different countries have also realized that the spirit of democracy lies in the Freedom of Speech. Incidents like shoe-throwing and the registering our demands have been around for quite some time. The recent incident of shoe- throwing at a Maoist commentator by a student from Hanian University in China brilliantly illustrates how democracy is conceived by the masses. The incident provokes one to relate to the situation in India. Considering the two countries of China and India: on one side is an economic giant which is still lagging behind in granting its citizens the liberty to free speech while on the other hand we have the world’s largest democracy where the lines on the Freedom of Speech and Expression are yet to be drawn neatly. Pondering over the Fundamental Rights one can see that the Freedom of Speech and Expression are inscribed in the constitution under Article-19(A) with some restrictions. It also shows the concept of liberty not being a license. These reasonable restrictions throw light on the fact that one cannot speak against public order, decency and morality, contempt of court, incitement of offence and sovereignty and integrity of India. These are basically some constitutional facts.

However, the reality is very different from the laws which are otherwise decaying on paper. The extent to which the restrictions restrict its people still needs a definition. China has been an illustration of the principles of the Communist party. The two countries are poles apart when their political histories are considered and undoubtedly India has granted its citizens the Freedom of Speech in much better way than China. The Freedom of Speech and Expression is visible in the way Indians have started using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to express their agony against the scams and scandals of the notorious government. On the contrary, in China sites like Weibo were created after the government banned Twitter, allowing its users to instantly transmit images and videos.

In spite of the legal instruments provided in India, incidents like the shoe-throwing one have not lessened. The freedom of a journalist, Jarnail Singh, when it came to throwing a shoe at P. Chidabaram, the then Home Minister, indicates how the freedom to express and protest against a politician needs to be restricted and defined. However, in China the firm grip of the Communist party in power and the widening gap between the party elites and average citizens has created discontent among the masses and instances such as the above symbolize how the freedom of expression needs to be evolved.

The one commonality here is that, in both the countries, negotiation is the key to satiate the demands of the citizens. Politics is all about perception not legality. When citizens perceive that politicians are going beyond the legal boundaries they also cross the legal barriers of reasonable restrictions to catalogue their ideas. Ideas of the censorship of the internet, which has recently been considered on the floor of the Indian parliament or the notion of banning Twitter, the way it has been in China, can further salt the wounds of the masses. In other words, the right to communicate with the political leaders is the need of the hour, the more the communication gap widens, the more is the possibility of the people being like birds trapped in their cages. In order to free the bird, one has to free the communication gap.

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  1. Tania Goklany

    I see a paradox here. Social networking sites, Twitter or Facebook for instance, provide the means for the masses to critique and abuse the political system. These sites serve the purpose of providing people with a platform to vent out their anger and frustration against the political class so to say, which in a way ensures that the the system remains intact, because eventually even the disruption is in the terms of law. On the one hand, It is a space where people let out steam by mocking the system, and on the other, it ensures that the political structure stays in place.
    It’s like Sunday. You cool off so you can go back to work and the cycle continues.
    My point, however, is that as long as freedom of speech and expression is in terms of the law even in a democracy, it’s plain hypocrisy. You don’t question the ambit of freedom of speech as long as it is not offensive. You bank on it as a constitutional right only when something offensive or something “impermissible” as per the law has to be said or done.

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        Find out more about her campaign here.

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