The Present article has been written by Shrey Hasija, a 1st-year student of Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU.

INDIA is a democratic country, and democracy is built on the right of people to express themselves, at least in part. In all democratic societies, freedom of speech is a fundamental human right; it is crucial in decision-making at all levels. When this fundamental human right is jeopardized, people become extremely emotional and will go to great lengths to safeguard it. This can cause social instability and possibly have bad economic consequences. Some feel that freedom of speech should be limited to a certain degree. However,  for a country to be deemed free, its citizens must be able to express their opinions.

Our generation has the luxury of freely expressing ourselves and posting it on the internet. But, how many of us value the opportunity to listen to, speak about, write about, and film what we love? Many governments around the world make it tough to voice your opinions. Even India went through a similar period between 1975 and 1977 when a state of emergency was imposed. People had lost their right to say whatever they wished throughout those 21 months. Meetings and social gatherings were subjected to stringent regulations. The country was deafeningly silent. People felt happy to rejoice as the government removed the state of emergency. That is how you feel when you are empowered. 

However, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of expression. A line must constantly be drawn that cannot be crossed. And it differs from person to person. Every person is free to voice his or her opinions and thereby affect his or her country, if not the entire world, according to the democratic ideal. In light of the current situation, I believe our country is headed on the wrong path in terms of our right to free expression. Many events have occurred in which people’s voices have been silenced. Campaigns are being waged against films, publications are being banned, and people are becoming aggressive towards others who express their opinions. We are stifling our freedom of speech in whatever manner we can, and it appears that this is now a regular occurrence.

It’s all about our viewpoints when it comes to free expression. We have the right to express ourselves as we see fit. Freedom of information, on the other hand, is a vital component of free speech. Disseminating false information is a violation of free speech because misinformation manipulates free speech to further a political objective. People have every right to argue and protest in civilized ways with rationalists, nationalists, and religious zealots.

The Indian constitution promises citizens freedom of expression, yet three recent incidents in India for expressing one’s views in the media against people in authority make one ask if freedom of speech is limited to a privileged few.  In India, an ordinary man’s freedom of speech or expression appears to be purely subjective and rarely a reality. An incident that occurred in Mumbai a few years ago sparked resentment from all sections of the populace. 

Two women were detained in Mumbai, one for posting a comment on Facebook about an entire city being shut down due to Balasaheb Thackeray’s funeral and the other for liking the statement. The local Police jumped into action with an alacrity rarely seen in the execution of the letter of the law, based on a complaint submitted by a local Sena member. To say the least, the recent instance of Gurmehar Kaur and the reaction she got from so-called nationalists is terrible. Perhaps they didn’t see the significance of Ms. Kaur’s statement.  It’s possible they didn’t want to or perhaps Gurmehar is too young to comprehend the implications of her words. 

However, she is still entitled to her viewpoint, and the Indian constitution guarantees her the right to voice it. 

What is evident is that we must advocate for prudence and compassion, or we will undermine the very institution that protects our rights. We must recognize that everyone’s intellectual levels are not the same and that they vary from person to person. Intolerance in any form, however, must no longer be accepted. There is no such thing as a perfect civilization, church, group, or country in the world. It was he who created religion, composed holy texts, established the caste system, established nations, and constructed bombs. We adapt over time since the only constant in the world is change. India, Pakistan, and the United States are not flawless, but I am hopeful that humanity will find its path. 

Freedom of expression is not only necessary; it is essential to our progress; the more it is practiced in a society, the less oppressed its citizens are.

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