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What Do The Youth Think: Should Freedom Of Speech Be ‘Absolute’ Or With ‘Reasonable Restrictions’?

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By Campus Watch:

Freedom of speech and expression is a hotly debated topic just now with writers giving up their awards, questions arising on the food we eat, what we watch in our private space etc. While many are arguing for absolute freedom of speech, there are others like the students at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who are demanding that the administration punish some of their fellow students for ‘expressive behaviour’, alleging that they can’t offend any particular community under the garb of ‘free speech’.

Freedom of speech is defined as the right to express one’s opinion without any hindrance. Should freedom of speech be ‘absolute’ or with ‘reasonable restrictions’? We asked some young people for their opinion on the same:

1. Tanushree Sarkar, MSc. Social and Cultural Psychology, The London School of Economics And Political Science (LSE)

The greatest trouble of all is defining what constitutes reasonable restrictions. Further, who is this body that will delineate such reasonable restrictions to the masses? There is no doubt that power and freedom go hand in hand. Not only must we be wary of absolute freedom but any claims regarding reasonable restrictions must be open to questioning and criticism. Perhaps it is time to move beyond a debate that dichotomises freedom of speech as either absolute or restricted, but one that examines closely the contexts in which absolute freedom of speech must be guaranteed and in which context must we place restrictions and how.

2. Atharv Pandit, B.A, Ramnarain Ruia College, University of Mumbai

I think that freedom of speech must always, without any kind of exception, be absolute. If it isn’t absolute, it isn’t ‘freedom’. The clause of ‘reasonable restriction’, by and large, includes many other restrictions as well, so that it never works out. Freedom of speech, thus, must be a no holds bar- only then can constructive debates and discourse on a topic of vital importance develop. A clamp down on the freedom of speech, ‘reasonable restrictions’ notwithstanding, is a very dangerous bet for a developing democracy. Only through free and flowing discussions can newer and fresher ideas come to fore- restricting them under certain Acts and Sections would yield nothing but a condensed atmosphere, one which is marked by fear, anger and negativeness.

3. Philip Kofi Ashon, Operations Manager, Citi 97.3 FM, Accra, Ghana

Freedom is supposed to be enjoyed by people. This is despite their class, stature, wealth or level of influence within a community. That is why it is called freedom in the first place. Limiting any freedom therefore changes its very essence. That, I believe, is the fundamental truth. The freedom to express one’s opinion or view sits within the same paradigm. Any limitation of any sort changes the form, nature and structure of that which we often deceive ourselves into clarifying as freedom of speech. It is said that one man’s freedom begins where another’s ends. Thus, we appreciate the reality that limitations are bound to control the enjoyment of our various freedoms. As Lord Acton indicated and has been so famously and widely quoted, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Man, being the social being he has accepted to be, can and probably will never understand any form of limitations ascribed to any freedom if he is led to understand that that freedom is meant to be absolute. So, while I believe in the essence of an absolute freedom of speech, I acknowledge that individuals are born, socialised and exist within various social paradigms in which exist several flaws; all of which make it impossible for such freedoms to be made absolute.

4. Setu Kumar Verma, M.Phil (Hindi), North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong

Yes, freedom of speech should be absolute. We should not give anybody a chance to define ‘reasonable restrictions’. But ‘hate speech’ should strictly be restricted, as it infringes on free speech of others.

5. Arkid Kalyan Bera, B.Tech Electrical and Electronics Engineering, BITS Pilani

twitter freedom of speech
Image source: Twitter

‘Restrictions’ are not desirable in freedom of speech, but when we add the word ‘reasonable’ to it, isn’t it better than ‘absolute’ liberty? We must have the power, the freedom to raise our voice against inept state of affairs, but one certainly won’t wish to act as the instigator of an unrest, affecting the sinless public. The word ‘reasonable’ simply demands for control over one’s speech, which is pretty valid. Consider our day-to-day activities. Do we just blabber out all things we feel about, without even judging our environment and the after-effects of our words on the listeners and, in general, society? This doesn’t mean we should refrain from putting forward our own concerns, but there is a particular technique for everything you do, which may yield the best outcome. You won’t obviously fancy an Akbaruddin Owaisi in each and every street of our country.

6. Abhishek Jha, B.Tech Chemical Engineering, IIT Roorkee

Freedom of speech can only be absolute or it has no meaning. The moment a restriction is placed on it, we accept that there can be grounds for abrogation of that right, and this leads ultimately to a much narrowed down freedom. The constitution of India in itself puts very few restrictions on this freedom. However, a regulation of speech has meant that governments have fought to work around Article 19 and restrict as much freedom as they can. Some of these restrictions have, in fact, been inherited from the colonial times in the Indian Penal Code. Section 66A of the IT Act (now repealed) went a step further and even made offensiveness of speech a crime. This is not surprising, however, on the part of any government. The way, however, for those who wish to work towards more freedom is to work for legislations that regulate violations (as stated in Article 19(2)) instead. For instance, a progressive way would be to regulate when one can overstep the restrictions listed in Article 19(2).

7. Swarnima Bhattacharya, Policy Research, UN Women

A sensitive, self-imposed restriction on the manner of expression, not expression per se, isn’t a bad idea, and sometimes even a necessity. While one is entitled to hold any opinion one wants, it is often a responsible thing to do to “express” dissent in a manner respectful of other pluralistic sensibilities. While the manner of expression should be judiciously self-regulated, any curtailment of expression, is certainly not desirable.

6. Annesha Ghosh, M.A English, University Of Calcutta

In my opinion, Freedom of Speech should not be absolute. The very premise of ‘absolute freedom’ seems problematic as it could result in thoughtless or wrongful utilization of the right. This may subsequently lead to gradual disintegration of harmony in the social fabric of a nation. In any case, enjoyment of any right in a given society is inevitably limited by the duty of recognizing and respecting similar rights of others. The right, therefore, must include a set of ‘reasonable restrictions’ which should take into cognizance the diverse ethnic and cultural praxes of a markedly heterogeneous country like ours. Most importantly, however, the ‘reasonable’ sub-clauses ought to be consistent in application and binding on all individuals of the society, irrespective of their position in the power hierarchy.

9.Towfeeq Wani, B.A English (Hons.), Jamia Millia Islamia

The whole idea of ‘putting reasonable restrictions on everyone’s freedom to stop one’s freedom in getting way of another’s freedom’ may be possible to apply to everything in the realm of liberty except that of the freedom of expression. One’s freedom of expression will always foster another’s freedom of expression and not the way we are made to believe. In this matter, the reasonability of restrictions is as problematic as the authority that gets to decide what is reasonable and what is not. Most people fail to realise that the whole idea of putting ‘reasonable’ restrictions on everyone’s freedom of expression is actually a tool in the hands of the state to exert and extend their authority upon the people in the name of national security and unity as defined in Article 19(2) of the Indian constitution. In order to let state decide what we should express and what we should not, we are made to believe that absolute freedom of expression will disrupt the harmony and land us in chaos.

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You must be to comment.
  1. Towfeeq Wani

    I accept hate speech cannot be tolerated by all as everyone has their own level of tolerance, however, technically, how does hate speech ‘infringe’ upon the freedom of speech of others?

  2. Avinesh Saini

    In Modiji’s Bharat, freedom of speech needs restrictions.

  3. Akshay

    FOE should be absolute, even if people use it to spew hate! Some will use it and other will
    abuse it, doesn’t justify censorship in wither case.

    When given a flower, some will appreciate its beauty and some will take a dump on it. I can only feel bad for the latter but that doesn’t mean we should ban flowers

  4. Monistaf

    Personally, I have always maintained that freedom of speech and expression must remain absolute, only exceptions being when used to incite violence or destruction of property. Without freedom of speech and expression, we would lose our ability to challenge existing norms and beliefs. Speech and expression is so much of what defines us as humans and restricting that freedom would subtract from the human experience.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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