In the words of renowned author, George Orwell, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Freedom of speech can be defined as a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. It is through free speech that citizens can speak freely and obtain information through publications and public discourse. This helps in forming and framing opinions without fear of retribution, restriction, or repression by the government. Freedom of speech enables society to unite and achieve political influence and strengthen public opinions and the choices they make as a whole.
Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India states that “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. The Preamble of the Constitution is the foundation of the principle of this article that aims to give all citizens the liberty of thought and expression. The exercise of this right is, however, subject to “reasonable restrictions” for certain purposes as imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
Some of the clauses for this right are as follows
This right is available only to a citizen of India and not to foreign nationals.
The freedom of speech under Article 19(1) (a) includes the right to express one’s views and opinions at any issue through any medium, e.g. by words of mouth, writing, printing, picture, film, movie, etc.
This right is, however, not absolute and it allows the Government to frame laws to impose reasonable restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality, and contempt of court, defamation, and incitement to an offense.
This restriction on the freedom of speech of any citizen may be imposed as much by an action of the State as by its inaction. Thus, failure on the part of the State to guarantee to all its citizens the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression would also constitute a violation of Article 19(1)(a).
The colonial era was a threat to the freedom of Indians as the British Empire wanted to restrict the Indian masses’ freedom of expression and speech. The British took every step possible to oppress the country - from the Sedition laws introduced in 1870 to curtailing opinion-making among Indians; this only led to people rebelling and voicing out their opinions and fighting for freedom.
The International Declaration of Human Rights, which was introduced in 1948, states that all people should have the freedom to express their thoughts and opinions. Under Article 19, freedom of speech and expression is recognized as a human right, which has now become part of international and regional human rights law. Freedom of speech and expression is also recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of International Human Rights.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that freedom of expression is a human right, therefore taking away the rights of someone to express their opinion is a threat to mankind and public discourse. Freedom of expression covers all these categories, namely: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and gives individuals and communities the right to articulate their opinions without fear of retaliation, censorship, or punishment.
Freedom of expression is not an absolute right as it does not protect hate speech or incitement to violence. The right to freedom of speech and expression are integral, intrinsic rights that help us navigate through our daily lives and are deeply connected and intersect our wellbeing with those of our society. It helps protect the thoughts and expressions of both individuals as well as the community. Freedom of expression encapsulates everything from satire to political campaigns to conversations with our loved ones as well as in public and online forums. It is a fundamental human right that allows citizens to speak freely and without any interference from anyone - be it the government or a politician.
It is not only important to be aware of our rights as citizens of the country but also we ought to exercise them as and when it is required. We need to be more vocal on political issues and unless we raise our voice and protest wrongdoings, we can never change society and will never prosper. To conclude, “If the freedom of speech and expression is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
― George Washington