Of freedom and expression

>Following is the assignemnt I wrote for my Law and Ethics class…thought this would be a good platform to share it:


Arundhati Roy’s latest public speech has landed her in yet another controversy, with critics accusing her of having committed a crime of sedition, while those supporting her continue to defend her by justifying Freedom of Expression. Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution clearly states that “all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression.” However, this seemingly liberal fundamental right, as guaranteed by the Constitution of India, also has certain limitations as mentioned under Article 19(2) which states that reasonable restrictions can be imposed on freedom of speech and expression in the interest of security of State. Since Ms. Roy has dared to express her opinion on something as controversial as the Kashmir conflict—an issue that has been existent for over six decades now (since independence)—she is being targeted more.

In her speech, Roy has very categorically stated that “Kashmir is not an integral part of India and that is a historical fact.” Historically, this is untrue, though the statement may be justified on the grounds that it is emerging out of a legitimate sentiment, a genuine feeling of ill-treatment towards the people of Kashmir. Roy, in her speech, has also raised a very significant question—“An independent Kashmiri nation may be a flawed entity, but is independent India perfect?” There are two things to be noted here: firstly, this is a rhetoric statement, and, secondly, it is subjective, thus inviting multiple opinions and viewpoints. Since it is a personal opinion, there are bound to be disagreements. However, since the statement is on nation state, there are possibilities of looking at it from Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

In an interview with Tehelka, Roy has made it clear that more than her opinion and/or interpretation of azadi, it is the people of Kashmir whose opinion matters. Roy advocating for Azad Kashmir is no different from the claims and causes of separatists like Geelani. However, it should be noted that Geelani is not the lone man fighting for Kashmir as a separate state. More than anyone else, it is the majority of Kashmiris, particularly the youth, fighting for this cause. For many such people who have been victims of a systematic system of corrupt and inefficient governance and administration in Jammu & Kashmir, Roy is probably a mouthpiece for their frustrated desires, expressed through pelting of stones. While I’m not supporting violence in any form by any one, when one looks at the barbaric and bloody history of Kashmir, one can at least understand the root cause for such a situation prompting the State to impose curfew every single time, with no effect.

Paromita Vohra, in her article published in Mid Day, Mumbai, says that Roy has simply voiced her opinion on a given topic, as “just another citizen of India.” The hullaballoo created in the entire nation over her statement is simply uncalled for. If anyone disagrees with what she has to say (which should be the case in an ideal democratic space, of which India is an ostensible example), there are ways to express discomfort, other than simply cornering, targeting or hurling abusive words at her. As Vohra rightly states: “On your blog, in a letter to the editor, in a Facebook note, in any language…prove her wrong,”

When Roy has made any such statement, the question is not whether she is right or wrong. The question is how well we can take it. Do we create a hullabaloo and advocate strikes and bandhs, burning her effigies (almost our area of specialization after 60 years of democracy)? Or do we listen, understand, form our own argument to counter her (if need be) and express it in as dignified and acceptable form, as she did?

To conclude, it would be best to sum it up with what The Hoot’s editorial has to say about this:
When you raise your voice a little too stridently against injustice in India’s districts you invite charges of sedition.”__________________________________________________



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