Is freedom of speech compromised in a democratic country like India?

Recent comments by Naseeruddin Shah on mob violence receives backlash


December 27, 2018

/ By / New Delhi


Anupam Kher has criticised Naseeruddin Shah for his recent comments on mob violence 

“How much more freedom do you need in a country?” asks actor Anupam Kher in response to Naseeruddin Shah’s statement criticising mob violence and lynching incidents in the country.

Anupam Kher says and believes that in India, one has enough freedom to abuse the army, badmouth the air chief and pelt stones at the soldiers, and shouldn’t demand for more. However, is this really the freedom that Naseeruddin Shah is talking about? Do the people of India demand such kind of freedom?

Veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah, while in a conversation with Karwan-E-Mohabbat, had said that he chose not to give religious education to his children. “In many areas, we are witnessing that the death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer. I feel anxious thinking about my children. Because they don’t have a religion… tomorrow if a mob surrounds them and asks ‘are you a Hindu or a Muslim?’ they will have no answer. It worries me because I don’t see the situation improving anytime soon. These matters don’t scare me, they make me angry,” Shah was speaking of the highly polarised political climate of the country today and where people are justifying the killing of humans in the name of cow protection.

As soon as this video went live, he was asked to relocate to Pakistan, a statement which is often dished out by self-proclaimed nationalists, whenever they hear any voice of dissent or criticism.

Naseeruddin’s intimidation is not the first

Last month, a television journalist Kishore Chandra Wangkhem was charged after uploading a video on social media calling Biren Singha, the chief minister of Manipur state, a “puppet” of the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The reporter was arrested under the National Security Act and later sentenced  to a year in prison. On June 22, 2018, BJP leader Choudhary Lal Singh warned Kashmiri journalists that if they did not ‘toe-the-line’ they would face the same fate as Shujaat Bukhari. Bukhari had been killed on June 14 this year by unknown motorcycle borne assailants.

In 2015, when Aamir Khan spoke about intolerance and fear for his children’s future, his posters and effigies were burned all over the country, and he had to eventually seek police protection. Not to mention the social media wrath and calls to “go back” to Pakistan. Speaking up had a professional cost as well — his contract as the ambassador of Incredible India failed to get renewed, despite 10 years at the job.

Hate Speech vs Free Speech

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India in its widest terms confers upon the citizens of the country, the right to freedom of speech and expression. The right to hold opinions without interference on important issues in society plays a vital role in the healthy development process of any society. Free speech is a necessary part of democracy’s marketplace of ideas.

However, it is also very important to strike a balance between freedom of expression and prohibition of hate speech, which can be a complex challenge sometimes.

Shah’s comments are the latest which confuse one about free speech and hate speech. People who support him believe that whatever Shah said, is what a citizen of the country is worried about today, after some spiteful incidents that have happened recently. They are worried about the impunity with which organised groups get away after lynching innocent people.

Therefore, one of the new government’s foremost challenge is to reset the norms of public discourse and protect the space for dissent in the country for its people to express themselves freely, instead of living a life in fear.

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