Romesh Thapar, a well-known Indian journalist and communist, was the first to file a petition in the Supreme Court of India, arguing that his ‘fundamental right to speech and expression’ is being violated. In 1950, the Madras government banned the circulation of Thapar’s English weekly leftist journal known as Crossroads. The government cited that they are doing so to ensure public safety and maintain public order.
In this case, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Madras government, stating that the ban is being put on the journal to ensure public safety, which can be considered a reasonable restriction on freedom of speech. The question remains: what is public safety and from whom are we protecting the public?
On the same day, the ‘Brij Bhushan vs. the State of Delhi’ case focused on censorship of a weekly journal called the Organizer before its publication. In this case, the Supreme Court struck down the state’s demand, mentioning that the liberty of freedom of the press is a violation of freedom of speech and expression.
India has been a free country for more than 72 years now. The fundamental rights listed in our Constitution are still prevalent and followed. In 2017, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) accused former Orissa High Court judge IM Quddusi and six others in a medical college scam. They were charged with criminal conspiracy and corruption for getting the verdict settled in the High Court. Interestingly, the Delhi government restrained media houses from publishing or reporting any news about the case. They were only allowed to notify the court proceedings.
This is just one of the many cases. There are many such cases where media rights were violated, resulting in the violation of the freedom of speech and expression of the press. These cases were handled by higher authorities, which every citizen believes in and looks forward to in India. But what about the cases that do not go to the Supreme Court?
A very recent case that took place and also concerns the ideal topic of freedom of speech is the case of Mumbai-based standup comedian Agrima Joshua. In 2019, she made a joke on the leader Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The video became viral a few days ago and has now been deleted, owing to the hatred received from Shivaji Maharaj’s followers. The joke also covered PM Narendra Modi and the Maharashtra government.
I am sorry for having hurt the sentiments of the many followers of the great leader Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. My heartfelt apologies to followers of the great leader, who I sincerely respect. The video has already been taken down. Please amplify.
— Agrima Joshua 🇮🇳 (@Agrimonious) July 10, 2020
As if the hatred for the comedian and the joke was not enough, people started to post rape threats to her on social media.
Social media has become a platform where people exercise their full right to say or post anything. People no longer have a hold on social media, it’s the other way round; social media has a grasp on people. This posting and sharing of views and ideology are only correct until and unless they do not get bifurcated into hate and threats. If you don’t like a video, you didn’t like her joke, don’t follow her or listen to her. These death and rape threats are absurd. I feel it is unhealthy, and I am exercising my freedom of speech and expression by writing about it.
Freedom of speech is not about saying anything, it’s about saying the right thing. There’s a reason we are taught what to speak and when to speak from the first time we are born. It depends on us how we exercise our rights when we grow up.
After Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, many celebrities have been receiving hate and are being unfollowed, which is fine. You don’t like a particular person, you don’t follow them. But the things that strike me the most are threat messages and heart-wrenching comments. Alia Bhatt’s sister, Shaheen Bhatt, posted screenshots that mentioned people giving her and her family death and rape threats. It does not account for freedom; this is freedom getting misused.
Though there isn’t any regulatory body to look after how one exercises their rights, what eventually happens is everyone somehow finds a loophole in the system and condemns about a particular right getting exploited. Unless there’s a body, the right to freedom will get exploited along with the right to speech and expression. Until and unless these loopholes get fixed, we will remain in this never-ending cycle.
Another critical player that comes in between the exercise of rights is the government. What has the government been doing for a very long time now, those anti-nationals, who dare speak against them? Just see the case of JNU or Kashmir. The Supreme Court amended Article 19, which stated the right to freedom of speech and added a sub-clause saying that public safety is a reasonable reason for restricting freedom of speech and expression.
But to answer my question, what is public safety and from whom do we need safety. Isn’t Agrima a part of public, and doesn’t she require safety? If yes, why are charges being put against her for a mere joke? The charges placed on her are only for insulting Shivaji Maharaj, nothing else.
The government intervenes when the statements are towards them. In other cases like Agrima’s and Shaheen’s, the government has no role. Other than the government, the public needs safety from the very public itself.