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.

Freedom_of_Speech

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.

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