Monday December 11, 2017
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Freedom of Speech and Expression—words written or a right implemented?


By Kanika Rangray

In the Constitution of India, there are few phrases which define to us our fundamental rights. One of these phrases talks about the “Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression.”

This right is also known as Article 19 of the Indian constitution and in basic terms it says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

But one question has repeatedly and frequently emerged—is this fundamental right actually implemented or is it just few words written on a piece of paper in a book called “The Constitution of India.”

Viewer discretion not sought

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The most recent incident due to which this question highlighted itself again is the ban on porn websites demanded by the government. The ban on websites which relate to pornography was put forward giving the reason that such websites are one of the reasons behind the increasing rate of crime against women and children in the country.

The long and short of it means that you’re telling an adult what he can and cannot watch on the net, even if it is within the four walls of his room. This would call for encroaching not only upon the right of freedom of speech and expression but also on the right of personal liberty.

There are also other instances which question the grounds on which we claim to the world that we are the world’s largest democracy, in which all citizens have equal fundamental rights—the right to speak for themselves, the right to express our opinions with full freedom.

This move of the government fuelled quite an uproar throughout the country and provoked a nationwide debate about censorship and freedom.

Due to the continuous criticisms faced by this action, the government had to bow down and lifted the ban partially by lifting the ban on “sites that do not promote child porn.”

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Fifty shades blurred

India’s censor board banned the release of a censored or toned-down version of the US film Fifty Shades of Grey. The erotic movie, which was an international box-office hit, was turned down by the censor board despite several expletives and nude scenes edited out.



Literature buried, never to be discovered

In 2014 Penguin India was made to destroy all unsold copies of ‘The Hindu: An Alternative History’, authored by Sanskrit scholar Wendy Doniger, in India. The destruction was done on the court’s orders which were in response to a petition filed by Shiksha Bachao Andolan or the Save Education Movement, a Hindu fundamentalist group which deemed the book insulting and threatening to Hindu culture.

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These self-appointed guardians of Hindu religion deemed the author’s treatment of ancient Hindu myths as human creations rather than divine truth, insulting and also called it a crime.

Paint all black

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Famous Indian painter, the late M.F. Hussain, was forced into self-imposed exile in 2006, after his canvasses—some of which depicted Hindu deities naked—were vandalised by right-wing Hindus, once again self-imposed guardians of Hindu orthodoxy.

Such a long journey forced to end

An award-winning 1991 novel, Such a Long Journey, authored by Rohinton Mistry was removed from the University of Mumbai’s curriculum, after the late Bal Thackeray, leader of the rightwing Shiv Sena, objected to how he and his party were depicted in the fictional level.

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Say no to Facebook

And speaking of Bal Thackeray, it is essential to talk about the Facebook controversy which erupted after his death.

Near riots took place in Mumbai because of a facebook post after his death, which questioned the Mumbai bandh which was declared to mourn the death of Bal Thackeray.

The girl, who made the post, simply said that we do not mourn the death day of martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, freedom fighters who earned respect and love by their actions. But a Mumbai bandh was called to mourn the death of a person who was respected and loved because people were afraid of him, afraid of the consequences of raising a single voice against him.

This was her opinion and she voiced it out loud, but the consequences were such that now you even question what you have written before you click the “post” button on your account.

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After recalling all these incidents above, is it even wise to write out this article, is there still the freedom of speech and expression to question the implementation of Article 19 of the constitution or has that also been curbed.

Freedom with “reasonable restrictions”

In a bid to curb blatant opinions being voiced out without care of the feelings of a person or a group of people or a community, and without paying any heed to consequences, the Indian constitution introduced Article 19(2) which cites certain ‘reasonable restrictions’ to the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Under these restrictions, the legislature is allowed to monitor free speech in the following conditions:

  • Restrictions can be put on free speech if it is in the interest of the security of the state.
  • The State can put reasonable restrictions if it could in any way hamper friendly relations with foreign states.
  • To maintain public order- this means public peace, safety and tranquillity. This amendment was called after the Romesh Thapar vs State of Madras case in 1950 where the supreme court said, “Freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations, for without free political discussion no public education is possible.”
  • Decency and morality: In the Indian Constitution, the word ‘indecency’ is equivalent to ‘obscenity’ and according to this restriction the State can charge “if the tendency of the matter charged as obscene can deprave and corrupt the minds which are open to such immoral influences.”
  • Contempt of Court: It refers to civil contempt or criminal contempt of courts, and no attempts should be made to impair the administration of justice.
  • Defamation: This restriction prevents any person from making any statement that injures the reputation of another. It has also been criminalised in India by inserting it into Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code.
  • Incitement to an offense: This restriction prohibits a person from making any statement that incites people to commit offense.
  • Sovereignty and integrity of India: This prohibits anyone from making statements that challenge the sovereignty and integrity of India.

After reading through all eight “reasonable restrictions” mentioned in Article 19(2), what remains—can we call it freedom of speech or should it be freedom of guarded speech.  

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Censorship in India: Protection or Supression?

The power of films was recognized long ago and they have been controlled ever since

Censorship in India, the power to stay in power
Censorship in India, a suppression of the free speech or a motive to protect the vulnerable? Pixabay

New Delhi, November 6, 2017: Film, as one understands, is the basis of all motion pictures and both the most persuasive and pervasive form of communication in the contemporary world. Following the development of technology, films have become much more ubiquitous and accessible. It is quite apparent that films have a lot more to them than just the purpose of entertainment. Not just a communicator of ideas, a film is also a crucial pedagogical tool that facilitates learning, spreads awareness, and motivates participation from the audiences. It is an efficient medium to help audience rethink their place in the world and to encourage them to do something for good.

Noting how influential films are as a medium of communication, the topic that
always remains hot is Censorship.

Censorship is not something that can easily be placed in the category of good or bad, in fact, both its supporters and those against it, have broken their necks to justify their arguments.

Films can change attitudes, inspire people and influence them in the deepest of ways. This was recognized long ago when the 1925 Russian film, Battleship Potemkin, was banned across the world as its story and visualization were deemed so powerful that it had the potential to arouse social outrage.

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) takes charge of Censorship in India. The board commands directors to remove everything it deems as offensive, on a regular basis. The CBFC has failed to convince a large audience with the reasons that it provided for the ban of certain films in India. One of these films is “Lipstick under my Burkha” which is the most recent film to become extremely popular for its ban in India. The reason that CBFC gave for the denial of certification to the film was that it is “Lady oriented”, which apparently, none can consider to be valid. If stifling the voices of women can be justified under the name of censorship, the very idea of it is threatening and must not be entertained.

Also readFacebook quietly develops Censorship Tool to re-enter World’s Second Largest Economy China after 7-Year Ban. 

Udta Punjab was also in limelight for the 94 cuts that CBFC demanded in the film, some of which included removal of the names of Punjab cities, the name of the state itself and the name of a dog which was called Jacky chain. There are many other films where the grounds on which the Censor board asked the filmmakers to cut scenes are unacceptable and sometimes plain hilarious. “Phillauri” makers were asked to mute Hanuman Chalisa as it failed to shoo the ghosts off.

The argument that the supporters of censorship usually give is that it is only in a perfect world, where children wouldn’t be exposed to films inappropriate for their age, where every person recognizes the boundary between film and reality, would censorship not be necessary; but the fact is that we don’t live in a perfect world. Censorship, as they call it, is just the step to protect the vulnerable in the society.

The people against censorship, however, shrug this idea off, and do not hesitate to call censorship in India, an incentive for the people in power to stay in power.

In principle, government holds a responsibility to make the art accessible to whoever is interested. However, with a country as diverse as ours, both absolute freedom and strict censorship could be problematic. The heterogeneity of citizens suggests the varying needs, sensibilities, attitudes and therefore, one needs to strike a balance.

-Prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter: goel_samiksha

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Censorship is Outdated Idea: Vivek Oberoi

censorship on films
Vivek Oberoi. IANS

Mumbai, Sep 16, 2017: Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi, who featured in the web series “Inside Edge”, says censorship is an outdated idea and the fact that it’s not exercised on digital media, is allowing the medium to grow.

Vivek was present at the ‘Jagran Cinema Summit – Future of Cinema’ along with Madhu Mantena of Phantom Films, Ajay Chacko of Arre and Sameer Nair, former CEO, Balaji Telefilms during a panel discussion on ‘Does the size of the screen matter?’

While Mantena and Nair are quite hopeful about the growing appetite for entertainment, Vivek emphasised on the creative freedom the medium is allowing.

Asked about how ‘non-censorship’ is giving creativity an extra advantage to experiment with, as opposed to television and films, Vivek said: “Well, thank God there is no censorship on the digital platform because it is such an outdated concept.

Also Read: ‘We shouldn’t have feminism in society’: Kangana Ranaut 

“Censorship in the true sense is supposed to be a guideline to rate the content as an adult watch or universal watch. But it has gone all wrong.”

He added: “See, even I have children who are also accessing entertainment content from the same device. As a father, even I do not want them to watch some adult content, violence etc, but there are ways to block certain content.”


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“The Argumentative Indian” : Amartya Sen documentary Director says ‘No’ in formal response to CBFC

The film, which is structured as a conversation between Sen and his student and internationally known economist, Kaushik Basu, covers a span of 15 years (2002-2017)

Documentary on Amartya Sen
Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner in Economic Sciences. Wikimedia Commons
  • Suman Ghosh has said NO to CBFC regarding their recommendations on the director’s documentary
  • CBFC told the director that the film would be released only if he complies with the boards suggestion to beep out words like “cow”
  • ‘The Argumentative Indian’ is structured as a conversation between Amartya Sen and his student, Kaushik Basu

New Delhi, August 10, 2017: Suman Ghosh, director of The Argumentative Indian– a documentary on Amartya Sen, who earlier refused to follow the Central Board of Film Certification’s diktat, has on Tuesday said that he has formally said ‘NO’ to the CBFC regarding the recommendations.

CBFC told the national award winning director, that his film would be released with a U/A (parental guidance) certificate only if he complies with the board’s suggestions to beep out words like “cow”, “Gujarat”, “Hindutva view of India” and “Hindu India”, which have been used in the context of the present political climate in the country.

“I came to know it is an online process now where you can only opt for ‘yes’ if you accept their (CBFC) suggestions or ‘no’ if you reject their suggestions… After verbally communicating with me on July 11, later on they sent me the letter bearing the same suggestions to keep on mute six parts (both words and phrases)—‘Gujarat’, ‘in India’, ‘Hindu’, ’cow’, ‘these days’ and ‘Hindutva’ for granting ‘U’ certification. In my formal response I opted for ‘no’ option as there is no question of reconsidering my stand of effecting not a single cut in an Amartya Sen documentary,” said Ghosh.


“But since if a director says no in such situations, his film has to go to the revising committee, I guess I have to appear before the revising committee now in Mumbai,” he further mentioned.

Ghosh stated his busy shooting schedule for a feature film, the reason of delay in his formal online response.

However, when the Nobel Laureate himself was asked about the matter, he chose to stay away from the controversy. “What can I say about this? This film is not made by me. I am the subject of the film and the subject should not be talking about these things. The director Suman Ghosh would say whatever needs to be said… Do not want to start a discussion on this. If the government has any disapproval about the film made on me, it has to be discussed with the concerned stakeholders,” Sen said.

Ghosh had earlier mentioned that he would approach the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), if the matter gets resolved at the revising committee level.

“The attitude of the censor board just underlines the relevance of the documentary in which Sen highlights the growing intolerance in India. Such scrutiny of any criticism of the government in a democratic country is shocking. There is no way I would agree to beep or mute or change anything that one of the greatest minds of our times has said in the documentary,” Ghosh told The Telegraph

Also read: Kolkata: Special Screening of Amartya Sen documentary “An Argumentative Indian” on July 10

According to the quint report, the CBFC move was dubbed as “preposterous” by CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury. “On what basis can a documentary on an Indian Nobel Prize winner be stopped just because it mentions cow or Hindutva?” he asked.

In the documentary, Sen speaks of social choice theory, development economics and the rise of right wing nationalism across the world. The film, which is structured as a conversation between Sen and his student and internationally known economist, Kaushik Basu, covers a span of 15 years (2002-2017).

“So many of our democratic rights are being violated but nothing much is happening…. I think we are not responding and that worries me,” said Ghosh, after a private screening of the documentary at Nandan III.

-prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter @goel_samiksha