Sunday, September 23, 2018

Editorial, "FREE SPEECH, INTOLERANCE & STATE EXCESSES," in 15 July 2018 issue of LAW ANIMATED WORLD, Vol. 14, Part 2, No. 13 issue


Recent developments in India bringing to fore many undesirable instances of intolerance, mob/gang vandalism and violence, targeted/lynching attacks/killings, as also undue police/state excesses and sanctions against free speech are quite deplorable, and have to be condemned seriously by all democratic minded citizens of any political persuasion. In the columns of this journal we have earlier traced the history of creation of legal hurdles to the exercise of free speech even from colonial times; as to how the once freer atmosphere of religious debates was curtailed by bringing Section 153A into the Indian Penal Code, which penalizes any trenchant criticism of religious theories/practices of one community by another, or even by a radical member of that same community, castigating it as promoting ‘disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different reli­gious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communi­ties’, or committing ‘any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities… etc. The introduction of this section was due to the notorious Rangila Rasool case in which an illiterate religious fanatic was hanged for killing the publisher of that book on mere hearsay that it consisted of objectionable materials against their religious prophet – and at that time even Jinnah was not so happy with its introduction. Likewise the notorious sedition clause, Section 124A, is still there in the statute book, though all the national leaders of the time demanded, and promised to do themselves on achieving freedom, its repeal. Over and above that, post-independence, countless repressive Acts have been brought into statute books by the Central and State Governments, gradually driving India towards a police state. Another 153-B was introduced, for punishment of those who propagate against ‘national integrity’, as if India has ever been or is a cohesive one nation and though there are doctrines galore on the various phases of nation-building, and one very famous theory is that India is still “a nation in the making”. The federal ideal has been given a go-by long back, but even the quasi-federal arrangements are in grave danger by such repressive laws and attitudes – even counselling moderation in relations with neighbouring countries and suggesting a ‘give and take’ approach to solve border problems/left over partition issues can be penalized by a repressive government. In this fearsome background, externment of journalists and religious leaders by the police, castigating them as or akin to ‘goondas’, comes as no surprise. §§§

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