Edited by Jai Kalra
The ability to express oneself freely is not just like any other another value. Free speech is how people with different opinions are able to settle disputes, instead of the person with more power silencing the opposition's views. For a civilized society, complete freedom of speech is paramount for individuals to point out problems, articulate their views, solve those problems and come to a consensus. This is ideally how a society should function.
Now, it is not to say that some restrictions on speech should not exist. Shouting “fire” in a crowded theater puts lives at risk, and cannot be protected under free speech. Neither can free speech remove the risk of consequences of irresponsible speech which includes potential unemployment. Nevertheless, reasonable individuals should be able to debate what restrictions on speech must be, without going against what it stands for. However, those restrictions in our country have issues. Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution contains restrictions on speech under eight heads. For the sake of brevity, three of those will be discussed.
Decency and morality- The topic of decency and morality is a subjective one as its standards vary individually. Therefore it is near impossible to draw the line in an objective manner. Furthermore, obscene and immoral speech, while may be disagreed with, should not call for prosecution.
Defamation- Section 499 and Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code states that in the issue, the truth isn’t considered a defense. Therefore even if the defamer has spoken the truth, that person can be prosecuted. Although, under Section 499, truth can be a defense if it the defamation was done “for the public good”, which is assessed by the judiciary. Even if someone has something negative to say about someone, having an opinion should not be a crime.
Incitement to an offense- This blatantly pins responsibility of a crime committed by a person on someone who did not commit that crime. The problem with this is self-evident.
The above restrictions are quite unreasonable and show slight fascistic colors. One must realize that restricting free exchange of ideas in a manner such as this, has dire consequences. It has been nearly every totalitarian government’s first priority to shut down free speech. An example of this is of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Russian Bolsheviks sought to shut down newspapers that criticized the socialist movement. We all know where that led to.
More recently, the Left’s war on free speech can be seen in Bill C-16 being legislated in Canada. The legislation criminalizes use of pronouns that the person in question does not identify as, tyrannically forcing people to use fictional pronouns such as “ze” and “zir”.
As a civil society, we must learn from history and understand that exchange of ideas in the free market will automatically outcast any archaic, unethical or unpopular ideas. By forcing people to speak in a certain way, we come one step closer to a being part of a totalitarian regime. In today's times, that is something we cannot afford.