Both Freedom of Speech and the Right to Offend must ideally be sacrosanct. Usually when Constitutions provide for Freedom of Speech, it exempts those that yell ‘Fire’ in theaters or resort to slander which is understood as false attribution that can cause damage to ones reputation. So while Freedom of Speech should have such limitations, it must be understood that TRUTH must be the underlying ethos on which ‘abuse’, slander or yelling FIRE in a theater is disallowed. So if there is a fire in a theater it is perfectly alright to yell Fire. But for the heck of it, yelling fire, or snake in a crowded room may result in stampede and death and sense dictates that cannot be allowed. Similarly if the slander is falsehood it is understood to be slander. If one tells the truth about a person X or organization Y or religion Z or prophet K, however much may be the offense caused, it cannot be slander if the information provided on X, Y, Z or K is based on truth and put forward in a non abusive manner meant to further the cause of truth. Thus hurt caused in the process of telling Truth must not ideally be put to State censorship. The only restriction for restricting putting Truth about X,Y,Z, K in public domain thus would be issues of national security e.g, military movements, assets, troop locations. deployments etc or possible uncontrollable law and order situations.
Coming to the Indian context, let us see where censorship in India started post independence. It started via a critique of Nehruvian policy by Romesh Thapar in his weekly the ‘Cross Roads’. It was banned by the Madras High court for publishing views critical of Nehruvian policy. It led to the landmark judgement in May 1950 in the case ‘Romesh Thapar vs State of Madras’. The Nehru Government eventually made the Amendment to 19(1)(a) to the Constitution against “abuse of freedom of speech and expression”.
In India, a particular brand of individuals that claim to be liberal have managed to hijack the discourse on Free Speech and link it with Offense and Hurt. This is the worst sacrilege one can deliver to both Truth and it’s fundamental vehicle of delivery: Freedom of Speech. The basic idea of Freedom of Speech is not the act for the sake of itself, but the act is a sacrosanct vehicle for the upholding and dissemination of Truth. If we uphold Hurt/ Offense as criteria of ‘abuse’ to curb Freedom of Speech, we may as well not have Freedom of Speech. And that is where the discourse in India has shifted since the Nehru era.
Truth may hurt one mentally as much as an antiseptic balm may hurt on a wound and thus the saying ‘Truth Hurts’ is not necessarily such a cliche. A society that endeavors to consist of an enlightened citizenship will always put Truth central to its constitutional preamble. Our constitutional visionaries took vision from an age old Dharmic saying ‘Satyameva Jayate’ and enshrined it in our Constitution. Yet we have been only paying lip service to the underlying importance this has towards developing an enlightened, civilized and developed society. We have been steadily contorting ‘abuse’ to imply ‘offense’ and ‘hurt’ irrespective whether the hurt or offense is caused by Truth or untruth.
Those who believe Free Speech should be curtailed because X,Y,Z or K is hurt or offended cause the maximum damage to the propagation of Truth and removal of Falsehood in Society. A large number of intellectuals in India that call themselves ‘Secular, left leaning and liberal’ ascribe openly to the fundamental that hurt or offense is enough cause for banning, revoking, jailing, exiling, banishing etc. All these have happened with many ample examples over the last 70 years or so since independence particularly with respect to minority sentiments. Yet whenever Dharmic voices exposed falsehood against their Dharmic Gods, Dharmic books, Dharmic texts that was met by a fiery reaction from this ‘left, liberal, secular’ spectrum.
Sita Ram Goel, Ram Swarup, Tasleema Nasreen, Salman Rushdie and plethora of writers, novelists faced the wrath of the ‘liberal, secular’ elite. And indeed they held sway and still hold sway on the discourse that being ‘offended’ and ‘hurt’ on being exposed to Truth is equal to ‘Abuse’ of Freedom of Speech and thus a violation of Freedom of Speech. Nothing could be further from the Truth. It is this travesty from this ‘secular, liberal’ lobby that puts into jeopardy the entire edifice of why we hold and should hold Freedom of Speech as sacrosanct.
Let us look at this Table below which bases itself on the axiom: Freedom of Speech = Right to uphold, propagate and disseminate the Truth, even if hurt or offense is caused.
Clearly one see’s that when security implications are law and order based a judgement call is required. But it must never be said in such a case that Freedom of Speech has been ‘abused’. The abuse of Freedom of Speech in banning say X Cartoons or Y books lies in banning Truth and succumbing to law and order blackmail. When Pseudo liberals justify twisting blackmail under a law and order implication as justification for Art 19 (1) (A), it is an abuse of the most basic fundamental for upholding Freedom of Speech. So thus when a judgement call is made to restrict a book, author, speech not because its false and offensive but it’s true and offensive and may have law and order implications, the constitution must call for the Govt to openly acknowledge it’s inability to uphold FOS and say the restriction is based solely on a Call of Judgement and not Abuse of Freedom of Speech. This clarity must be understood and implemented even if we cannot uphold Freedom of speech in many cases. Else we run the risk of blasphemy laws being implemented upon us, movies, books, literature except the very inane and banal being eliminated amongst us. A focused discourse on the right to offend must be linked to freedom of speech imperatives and only be restricted either due to security implications or when the state succumbs to law and order blackmail in which case the need for larger education among people on why the right to offend is a necessity along with the provision of freedom of speech initiated. That is how we can preserve and enhance the institution of Freedom of Speech. Else by equating Offense and Hurt with ‘Abuse’ of Freedom of Speech our liberals do nothing but encourage the rowdiest elements to harass citizenship, writers, artists, directors, producers, theorists or almost the entire gamut of our free and true liberal society.