A STITCH IN TIME
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION VS
RESONABLE RESTRICTIONS ON IT
OF WORDS & ACTIONS
India has guaranteed to its Citizens many valuable, Fundamental Rights through the Constitution o India.
Of these fundamental rights, the fundamental freedoms guaranteed under constitution are very important – for exercise of all other rights.
These are as follows :
• Freedom of speech and expression;
• Freedom to assemble peaceably and without arms;
• Freedom to form associations or unions;
• Freedom to move freely throughout the territory of India;
• Freedom to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India;
• Freedom to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.
But, these are subject to reasonable restrictions. We have Freedom of speech and expression. But it is subject to reasonable restrictions in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
There will be a few border line cases where it is difficult to judge whether one’s exercise of freedom of expression is or is not in conflict with the sovereignty and integrity of India and the security of India. In such matters – the Government of India must take a clear stand on the imposition of restrictions – so that Public and Press know where the Buck stops. In the absence of that, freedom of expression can put the country in avoidable embarrassment. In case of known issues like Kashmir, India has taken firm Positions in International Fora like UNO and there is general consensus on such stand among most Political Parties. To my mind – general public in India, including the Press, need not be allowed to voice different opinions on such matters, in conflict with India’s known stand, where there is at least a 2/3rds majority opinion in Parliament in favour of such an international stand.
I have all the respect for people who have differences of opinion with the Government on Kashmir. Frankly - I also have some difference of opinion with the stated stand of the Government and also with the way we are tackling the Kashmir issue. I think, the topmost priority in the Kashmir problem is – to resettle all Kashmiri Hindus back in their places and ensure their safety and freedom. The second Priority is to identify all Pakistanis residing or hiding in Kashmir and drive them out or book them all under Indian Law. The third priority is - the continuous influx of Pakistanis into Kashmir must be stopped at all Costs. Till these three priorities are effectively addressed – where is the question of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir? Can’t we see the farce in such a demand?
My view is - the elections held and the Governments installed in Kashmir like that of National Conference are the conclusive proof of Kashmir’s right to be in India. But, the three concerns voiced above remain to be addressed – and on these three concerns public will definitely need freedom of expression – not on the international stand taken by India – with a 2/3rds majority agreement in Parliament.
I think, Government of India, through a 2/3rds majority opinion in Parliament, must come out with its clear stand – and, as the matter does involve the sovereignty and integrity of India, impose reasonable restrictions on differences of opinion on the subject. Else, such differences of opinions or demands for plebiscite can also come in respect of many other places in India in future. A stitch in time saves nine. This – is such time. It would also be healthy for the Government to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court before imposing such reasonable restrictions.
Having said that – all right thinking Indians must come out strongly against the growing violence – in words and actions – of some people and organizations in India, which is putting all the rights of others in jeopardy.
Unfortunately – more often the Governments in India at the Centre and states are dealing with non-violence with violence; but not dealing with violence at all. Whether it is putting down the violence against Biharis in Maharashtra or caste clashes in Rajasthan, or any politically inspired physical violence any where in India goes largely unpunished.
Most of the time, the views expressed by Politicians and some NGOs are dimmed by their Political and other affiliations. For example, in respect of Gujarat, some will studiously avoid the Godhra Carnage and some will studiously avoid the aftermath. Nurturing such double standards are bound to lead to similar incidents in future also.
The crux of the matter is – there is no place for violence of words or actions in India. Such violence must be dealt with, at the first known occurrence and every known occurrence.
For instance, one Telangana Politician is shown on media having asked people – to beat up all Congress MPs and MLAs etc. He is known for such inflammatory speeches. If Government cannot tackle such incitement to violence even against its own MPs and MLAs – how will it protect individual freedoms guaranteed to general public? But, the defense of some agitationists is - some Congress men also said things like that! If that be true – put whoever says such inflammatory and violence-inciting words behind bars forthwith and deal with them as per stated Law. Do not wait till such persons actually carry out their violent threats.
Constitution does not guarantee individual freedoms. It only lays down the freedoms to be guaranteed by the Governments in Power. It is the Government’s sole responsibility to do that. Not of the printed Book called the Constitution. If state government does not and cannot do it for any reason – Centre has to do it. The Judiciary also needs to take suo-motu cognizance of such instances coming to its notice even through press and media. It has done in a few instances. There is no doubt. But, when it comes to Political incitement to violence – no one in India is acting.
There is another type of violence that also needs urgent attention. Violence by the Police forces. Most of the public outcry in Kashmir is against the unjustified use of force by the Kashmir Police itself. But, Police any where in India – is doing that. Look at any video footage of action by Police in any state – it is full of unnecessary violence.
Kiran Bediji has said once in a TV Channel – that – in one state, she received some orders from her superiors – to break the legs – of some agitationists in a state. Of course, she dealt with it tactfully and avoided giving such orders to the Police under her control. I very warmly congratulate her and thank her for such imaginative action.
But, the point is – Police bosses and Political bosses are giving such orders – to break legs, bones etc – of especially peaceful agitationists. And, what happens to the people who are bet up by the Police – afterwards – is nobody’s concern. When will the Indian Police consciously strive to abide by Law themselves and adopt more intelligent, humane and less brutal methods – in tackling law and order Problems? We need many, many more Kiran Bedis in Police forces to achieve this. As earlier said – if they act in time and strive to prevent crime before it happens, India will become a much better place to live for law abiding citizens. A stitch in time – saves all further stitches and tears.
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