Freedom Of Speech And Expression In India: Controversy’s Favourite Child

Posted by priya saini in Culture-Vulture
March 3, 2018

The right of freedom of speech and expression in India is granted in article 19(1)(a). The heart of article 19 states that every citizen of India has the right to hold on to their opinions and to receive and to impart information not only with India but also with people abroad.
People can also share their opinions through social media.

Freedom of speech and expression is also included in cases of films like “Vishwaroopam” and “Padmaavat” which came under controversy. In 2013, the film “Vishwaroopam” was forced out from the cinema by the state government. This act lead to a rise in debates revolving around the freedom of speech and expression.

“M F Husain had to do it, and now Haasan will do it,” the 58-year-old film-maker said in a televised news conference in Chennai, comparing himself to self-exiled painter Maqbool Fida Husain. “I think Tamil Nadu wants me out.”

Now the question that arises here is whether we are going back to the days prior Indian independence. The colonial government has a habit of banning films, interfering in theatre work and confiscating the security money deposited by newspaper and closing them. “Vishwaroopam” was in controversy because of some Muslim group that had been protesting against for the alleged depiction of the community in a negative way. The state banned the movies, but the order was later overturned by the Madras High Court.

Hassan then emotionally said that he was fed up and would look for a secular state which could house an artist like him. India’s best know artist MF Hussain fled from the country in 2006 and died in exile in London. For years, Indian galleries were frightened of protests to display his work.

In a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi vs the Union of India held that there is no geographical limitation on freedom of speech and expression. Yet, there were also other cases in which the Supreme Court said that state government has no right to ban or censor any film. This right has been only given to the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

Another controversy related to the freedom of speech and expression was the “Padmaavat” controversy. Freedom of speech also includes the freedom of the press The state cannot censor the freedom of the press. Although this has been tried in the past, it largely remains unsuccessful. The honourable SC has said that a film should be treated separately from any other form of art and expression because motion pictures can stir up emotions more deeply than any other form.

The power to make laws related to censorship of films is vested with parliament under the union list of scheduled VII of the constitution. The state can also make laws related to cinema in state list under entry 33(20) subject to provisions of the central legislation.

Controversies related to the “Padmaavat” saga give rise to many questions. Is the CBFC a mere puppet of the government? Is the CBFC a quasi-judicial body? Is cinema censorship is not the same as censorship of information?

Is the freedom of speech and expression controversy’s favourite child?