In the wake of the debate ensuing on social media and television, a major chunk of the political class and society is asking – what should be the permissible extent of freedom of expression? What degree of opinion must be accepted?
Dissent: Fundamental To Reason And Rationale
All trouble begins when the system and society start looking upon each form of dissent as a violation. While democracy, democratic values, and faith in institutions should be surging, embracing the individual’s public as well as private life; our society acts more like a selective membrane filtering and passing only those changes that re-enforce trivial notions thereby depriving us of a chance to re-define old values. Much like the old saying – “Every change is acceptable unless it involves oneself.”
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality ― Desmond Tutu
Freedom is not just political or social. It delves deeper spilling into our personal lives, dictating the manner in which we look at the world around us. It may sound Utopian but an idealistic approach while making personal decisions could bring about all the difference.
Dissent is an elementary and indispensable part of human civilization, constantly propelling us towards modernity. At the end of the day, one must remember that it was the dissent of Raja Ram Mohan Roy that led to the abolition of the barbaric Sati tradition (widow-burning). It was the dissent of Savitribai Phule that led her to establish educational centers for girls, acting as a torch-bearer for the rest of the nation promoting education rights for women considered to be taboo at the time (19th Century). It was the dissent of Subhash Chandra Bose that led him to fight for freedom against the British instead of taking up a comfortable job.
A Right, Not Mercy
All citizens of India are guaranteed “the right to freedom of speech and expression” according to Article 19(A) of the Constitution of India. This, however, is not an absolute. Restrictions apply to implement necessary checks and balances so as to safeguard the integrity of the nation and to protect other subjects, but such restrictions must not be used as a mean to curb differences of opinion.
Expressing one’s opinions is a ‘right’ as fundamental as the right to life itself. According to me, the question ‘What should be the extent of freedom of expression?’ is itself an indignation to the sanctity of expression. This a right that the Indian Constitution promises us and isn’t a mercy bestowed upon us by any benevolent entity.
It may also be that we who are used to freedom being served on a platter, are taking it for granted. As a society, have we stopped realizing the importance such rights hold in our lives, in our professions, in our existence?
However, violation and dissent are two completely different terms that are often mistaken for the other and thus must be reconsidered. One shouldn’t simply be able to ‘snatch’ freedom according to their flimsy wishes, as this will in time undermine democracy and institutions and give way to unrest and instability.
Freedom of mind is the real freedom. A person whose mind is not free though he may not be in chains is a slave, not a free man. One whose mind is not free, though he may not be in prison, is a prisoner and not a free man. One whose mind is not free though alive, is no better than dead. Freedom of mind is the proof of one’s existence ― DR. B.R. Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches
Fangs Of Freedom
It ultimately depends on the society as a collective that needs to keep introspecting the impacts of various narratives and discourses because ‘we are what we think’. Whether we want to blunt the fangs of expression or in the course of time sharpen its teeth, is a call we need to take ourselves.
We need to have an opinion on every topic that concerns our society. As they are the ones that are going to determine ours as well as our country’s future. One must realise that fallacy in one’s outlook doesn’t prove the other correct; both of them would be equally muddled with fact and propaganda.
We need to respect ‘not agreeing’ and honour differences of thought, ideology and perception instead of suppressing it. We need to decide wisely and ensure that our decisions reinforce the democracy, the rule of law and growth.