Free speech – an opinion or an insult?

tft-34-p-22-a-600x400About a month back, I read a news article that the Supreme Court of India has said that Freedom of Speech cannot be absolute. Unable to decide if it was a right decision or not, my mind raced to the Charlie Hebdo attack. A few days after the attack, a local leader who looked frustrated by the world clamouring for an unknown bird called the freedom of speech, stated on television that there is a thin line between expressing an opinion and insulting an opinion and that line has to be respected.

Unable to believe myself, I was able to find some sense in both the above statements given by the apex court which has to be obeyed and the leader who makes his ends meet by playing the communal card.

Somewhere in between these two incidents, a funny thing happened in Indian entertainment industry. A ‘roast’ video was released by an Indian channel on YouTube. This was a genre very new to the Indian audience and though the inexperience of the makers was visible, the effort was praised by the masses for doing something new. However, the funny thing was that the “comic video made to make people laugh” was banned and taken down from the internet. The reason given by the authorities was that it had hateful, sexist, racist and obscene content. I emphasize here that I saw the complete video and yes it had abusive words but if X jokes about Y in front of Y and Y laughs it off, how can Z have a problem with that? This was the time when I realized that being a little creative can turn out to be disastrous in the world’s largest democracy.


I learnt to live with this fact and was at peace with the system when 2 notorious speeches by 2 notorious religious leaders came to my notice. In one of them, a leader of the minority challenged the Prime Minister to keep the police away for 15 minutes and then see how the minority shows that they are the real men. He continued by saying that the majority has given to this nation nothing but obscenity, refering to the caves of Ajanta and Ellora and erotic sculptures of Khajuraho.

The second video was the reply to this speech by the leader of a rival group who while addressing scores of people, found everything amusing and recalled the results of previous instances when the police was removed communal riots when thousands of innocent people from the minority were slaughtered.

Well, both of these videos are available on YouTube and all other websites and their views increase everyday and so is the hatred among the illiterate. I have a question from the unbiased government, the justice provider Supreme Court and all other guardians of peace and culture. I want to know where they are. How a comic video spread so many big negative words but hate speeches by influential people are totally acceptable? I also want to ask that gentleman who pointed out the difference between an insult and an opinion if he ever reads the newspaper. Each issue is filled with cartoons mocking our politicians. In which category does he put those cartoons? Or those speeches in the Parliament when opposition leaders call the former Prime Minister a ‘thief’. Are those “opinions” because his belief is not the one being talked about? Who is the one to decide if it is an insult or an opinion?

In a country where a teenager is arrested because of a Facebook update expressing remorse after the death of a politician because the roads would be jammed for his funeral, and a student body of IIT Madras (one of the finest institutes of the country) gets banned for publishing an article criticizing the Prime Minister; I have to think how is democracy different from dictatorship.

Is absoluteness of freedom of speech necessary for its survival or it is safe even with limits? This is the question whose answer I really need to know from everyone reading this post. Tell me what do you think.

This came in response to the Quote Challenge given by the wonderful blogger Kritika whose poetry and photography say much more than I could say here.


26 thoughts on “Free speech – an opinion or an insult?

  1. Beth June 12, 2015 / 10:18 pm

    Oh, Prateek, you’ve asked a huge question. I think that although in Voltaire’s days some horrid things were said in political cartoons, the reach wasn’t so immediate and widespread as in the digital age. I also think that as recently as 50 years ago, to get a public forum to speak or be heard, you have to basically have reasonable social skills and a responsible enough position that someone would listen to you, even if you were just standing on a “speaker’s corner”, like they had in London.

    I think it also sometimes takes getting older to see how agreeing to “anything goes” behavior takes it’s toll. Alot of damage is done with all this deliberately inflammatory speech and behavior that does no one good in the long run.

    I think that there is no such thing as freedom without responsibility – it just isn’t possible. Meaning that you’re public is basically generally well-raised enough to use fairly good sense. We don’t have a fundamentally responsile public (OR A PRESS) in the U.S. who would sensibly self-govern it’s speech in a responsible way. Our media is dumbing us down hourly and our government frequenty seems to be invested in distorting information, and they both keep the public focused on idiotic things instead of real concerns.

    There are bound to be pendulum-swings until we adjust to the digital age and people discover that employing responsible ways of communicating is what works better than thoroughly offending each other. Unfortunately, much injustice will have to happen before people grasp that.

    On the other hand, sometimes something is so outrageously vicious and neanderthal that it may well deserve blatant ridicule.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Prateek Kohli June 13, 2015 / 9:08 pm

      I can’t express how much I loved your well-thought response! Especially the ‘responsibility’ that comes with every ‘right’. I completely agree with you on this.

      But sadly, I also agree with you that media has risen over the duties and fundamentals of journalism and has just become a medium to make big money. After seeing it live in India and through some documentaries, in US, it all comes down to a handful of corporates who control the government, who own the media and who tell us what is right or wrong.

      But as you said, a major change that has arrived in this century is the abundance of mediums for mass communication which has increased the limelight on this issue, exponentially.

      Your conclusion answers so many questions that were troubling me for some months now. Injustice is happening, but with every such incident, more and more people are in fact understanding that there is a problem somewhere. With wise people like you showing the light, I am sure the darkness will soon fade and we all will learn to behave and to respect.

      Thank you so much for taking the time out to read and for sharing such valuable insights. When guidance come from someone as experienced and amazing as you, it surely does wonders to the readers. Have a great Sunday, ma’am 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Beth June 14, 2015 / 5:24 pm

        You are very kind and I admire your search for some resolution to these dualities that exist, Prateek. I am a thoroughly insignificant voice, but I thank you. The more people who are asking themselves these questions and realizing that there is a balance needed, the better off I think we’ll be.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Prateek Kohli June 14, 2015 / 7:12 pm

        The solution couldn’t be told in a better way. Life would be good if each one of us learns to question oneself.


  2. Kritika Vashist June 13, 2015 / 4:52 am

    Okay, we already have a topic to discuss!
    The court has passed the petition for free speech in social medias. Now nobody can be arrested just because some one else find it offensive. That XYZ example was well put, though I had a huge debate about this TVF drama. 😛
    There’s a brilliant quote related to this that I’ll share with some text soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Prateek Kohli June 13, 2015 / 8:38 pm

      That news completely had completely missed me! Upon searching for it, I find it is indeed a great step in the right direction. However, the court still gives the power to the government to take the final call. Probably that’s why that IIT Madras club got banned but speech of Praveen Togadiya is widely watched.
      And I too would love to discuss that AIB* drama with you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kritika Vashist June 14, 2015 / 3:41 am

        Oh yes, AIB. Sorry. I had watched an amazing video by TVF just before reading your post, so it was there on my mind.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. williamleeone June 13, 2015 / 8:10 am

    All speeches and or comments can effectively be reversed when comments are taken “out of text” in order to strengthen the rivals corner. Get used to it folks, that is one thing the young US has been doing for a long time in this world of fast media! Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Prateek Kohli June 13, 2015 / 8:34 pm

      You are right. But won’t getting used to it would make the chances of truth’s revival weaker?
      As it is quite natural to see the powerful one successfully doing so with rivals. Whether its US in the world, or a government to its nation, or a bully in school!
      Somehow the powerful always speaks the truth 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • williamleeone June 14, 2015 / 3:46 am

        Of course the truth power will eventually win. I am only warning that any thing read or said, and accepted at face value can be dangerous at the polls!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder June 13, 2015 / 9:22 am

    You have raised a controversial question. Personally, I think freedom of speech should be implemented, but with the advent of social networking sites, it seems, that some people are exercising FOS in their own ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Prateek Kohli June 13, 2015 / 8:23 pm

      Thank you so much! I was waiting for your comment. Couldn’t have been possible without you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Purpleanais June 14, 2015 / 12:26 am

        Aw, that is such a sweet thing to say. I’m really pleased if reading my posts encouraged you at all, but the credit is all yours 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. InkMode June 13, 2015 / 7:45 pm

    I have been thinking over this same issue..
    Well, u pulled it off, very well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Prateek Kohli June 13, 2015 / 8:48 pm

      I think the problem would be solved if all of us just agree to think about this issue 🙂
      Thank you for reading and appreciating 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Steph (: June 14, 2015 / 3:29 pm

    I nominated you Prateek! 🙂
    1. Post 3 of your favourite quotes each per day for 3 recurrent days. The quotes can be of any other people or it may come straight from your own heart.
    2. Nominate 3 or more bloggers with each post to challenge them.
    3. Don’t forget to utter a thankful word to the person who nominated you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Prajakta June 15, 2015 / 10:22 am

    Just a couple of hours back I read this post on HuffPost India about how we are becoming a Republic of Silence. It took a different angle that this in the sense he is talking about how we are uneasy to criticize the present Govt and hesitant to speak out as clearly acche din is not here. To quite an extent it is a reflection of our failure to elect/have too many hopes on one person.

    That said, your post brings up quite a few things, and also reminding me of the blind eye that is being turned to the Hindutva wing doing ridiculous things. Makes me wonder… Do we only listen and raise our voice when it is convenient for us or makes us look witty/funny/insightful? Or does the fear of appearing prude (or being bashed by a body) silence us?

    I went off the track here 😛 Sorry! I hope you understand…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Prateek Kohli June 15, 2015 / 11:55 am

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing these views. You make complete sense.
      I feel that more than having hopes on one person, the person got the power because of having no competition. This is a funny aspect of a democracy that even though we boast of having a true democracy with hundreds of political parties, we actually have to oscillate between just two of them.

      The blind eye to the Hindutva, so many absolutely rubbish reasoning and advice given by publicity hungry leaders point to one probable thing. Every time someone like Raghuram Rajan criticizes the government for its policies, or some other truth unsurfaces. some insane comment comes in the public. Sometimes its the ghar-vaapsi or recently attacking Pakistan. This way of distracting the people from real issues is working since ages. Not only the illiterate ones, I see my seniors working in companies like Microsoft in US updating their statuses in praises for the “bravery” of the government. This really leaves me feeling pessimistic.

      The fears you talked about are very true. We all, including myself, are a selfish species. Reminds me of a powerful dialogue from ‘No one killed Jessica’ : “They asked me to choose from 10 million rupees or one bullet. I don’t want the money, but I also don’t want the bullet”.
      Loads of pessimism flows when I see even a chief minister is unable to bring radical changes in the system because he is against the system. People like us can only try to change just ourselves for the better, hoping everyone does so.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Prajakta June 16, 2015 / 4:03 am

        I had forgotten about that dialogue… Wow. You summed it up well! Especially how somehow everyone abroad is going gaga over Indian Govt.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Shreya Khandelwal June 15, 2015 / 5:27 pm

    A brilliant post, Prateek. You have highlighted numerous important points and incidents related to the topic very well.
    Almost all my thoughts on the topic are already covered in the comments above, especially by Beth, and by you in your subsequent replies, so I won’t repeat them
    Anyways, A very thought provoking post. I actually read it twice to contemplate upon the issues that you have raised so articulately. A great job, indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Prateek Kohli June 15, 2015 / 6:44 pm

      Thank you, Shreya! For the past few days, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the practice of hegemony by the government in the way it has been employed by most of the world dictators. After media, film-making is officially losing its freedom to express. The reputed Film and Television Institute of India is now led by 5 people, all closely related to BJP and RSS :/

      Liked by 1 person

    • Prateek Kohli June 19, 2015 / 11:45 am

      I am glad you found it interesting ma’am. Thank you so much for stopping by. Hope to see you again here 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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