Freedom of expression in India

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The Constitution of India provides the right of freedom, given in articles 19, 20, 21 and 22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights that were considered vital by the framers of the constitution. The right to freedom in Article 19 guarantees the Freedom of speech and expression, as one of its six freedoms.


  • It is a notorious fact that many prominent Hindus who had offended the religious susceptibilities of the Muslims either by their writings or by their part in the Shudhi movement have been murdered by some fanatic Musalmans... This was followed by the murder of Lala Nanakchand, a prominent Arya Samajist of Delhi. Rajpal, the author of the Rangila Rasool, was stabbed by llamdin on 6th April 1929 while he was sitting in his shop. Nathuramal Sharma was murdered by Abdul Qayum in September 1934. It was an act of great daring. For Sharma was stabbed to death in the Court of the Judicial Commissioner of Sind where he was seated awaiting the hearing of his appeal against his conviction under Section 195, 1. P. C., for the publication of a pamphlet on the history of Islam. .... This is, of course, a very short list and could be easily expanded. But whether the number of prominent Hindus killed by fanatic Muslims is large or small matters little. What matters is the attitude of those who count towards these murderers. The murderers paid the penalty of law where law is enforced. The leading Moslems, however, never condemned theses criminals. On the contrary, they were hailed as religious martyrs and agitation was carried on for clemency being shown to them. As an illustration of this attitude, one may refer to Mr. Barkat Ali, a Barrister of Lahore, who argued the appeal of Abdul Qayum. He went to the length of saying that Qayum was not guilty of murder of Nathuramal because his act was justifiable by the law of the Koran. This attitude of the Moslems is quite understandable. What is not understandable is the attitude of Mr. Gandhi. (p. 157)
  • The relations between the two communities were strained throughout 1923-24. But in no locality did this tension produce such tragic consequences as in the city of Kohat. The immediate cause of the trouble was the publication and circulation of a pamphlet containing a virulently anti-Islamic poem. Terrible riots broke out on the 9th and 10th of September 1924, the total casualties being about 155 killed and wounded... As a result of this reign of terror the whole Hindu population evacuated the city of Kohat... A feature of Hindu-Muslim relations during the year which was hardly less serious than the riots was the number of murderous outrages committed by members of one community against persons belonging to the other. Some of the most serious of these outrages were perpetrated in connection with the agitation relating to Rangila Rasul and Risala Vartman, two publications containing most scurrilous attack on the Prophet Muhammed, and as a result of them, a number of innocent persons lost their lives, sometimes in circumstances of great barbarity... An event which caused considerable tension in April was the murder at Lahore of Rajpal, whose pamphlet Rangila Rasul, containing a scurrilous attack on the Prophet of Islam, was responsible for much of the communal trouble in previous years, and also for a variety of legal and political complications... In Madras a riot, on the 3rd September resulting in one death and injuries to 13 persons was occasioned by a book published by Hindus containing alleged reflections on the Prophet... On the 19th March 1935 a serious incident occurred in Karachi after the execution of Abdul Quayum, the Muslim who had murdered Nathuramal, a Hindu, already referred to as the writer of a scurrilous pamphlet about the Prophet. Abdul Quayum's body was taken by the District Magistrate, accompanied by a police party, to be handed over to the deceased's family for burial outside the city. A huge crowd, estimated to be about 25,000 strong, collected at the place of burial. Though the relatives of Abdul Quayum wished to complete the burial at the cemetery, the most violent members of the mob determined to take the body in procession through the city... Forty-seven rounds were fired by which 47 people were killed and 134 injured. (Chapter 7)
  • The [Arya Samajs'] defiant stand against Islam was increasingly reaping the whirlwind... A pamphlet of the local Sanatana Dharma Sabha... contained an anti-Islamic poem. Frightened by the first Muslim protests, the Hindu minority convened and passed a resolution "regretting their error and requesting pardon". To appease the Muslim protesters, the authorities arrested Jiwan Das... Nevertheless, on 9 and 10 September 1924, Muslim mobs raided the Hindu neighbourhood, killing dozens of Hindus... The most outstanding Arya Samaji of the twentieth century, Swami Shraddananda, was killed by one Abdul Rashid.... When Abdul Rashid was hanged... Muslim clerics all over India held prayer-meetings for his martyred soul. Dr. Ambedkar testifies: "The leading Muslims, however, never condemned these criminals. On the contrary, they were hailed as religious martyrs."... In 1933, another Arya Samaji, Nathuramal Sharma, was taken to court for publishing a similar pamphlet as Lekh Ram's... in the courthouse itself he was murdered by one Abdul Qayum.
    • Dr B. R. Ambedkar cited by Elst, K. Elst, Koenraad (2001). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. pp 112-13
  • Do we realise how that hastily-ordered ban [of the book The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie] has changed India forever? .... When the Government promptly submitted to this illiterate hysteria, it convinced [Hindus] that secularism had become a code phrase for Muslim appeasement.
    • Vir Sanghvi: Liberal first, secular second. Sunday, 27.2.1994, quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2001). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 32-33
  • India's constitution represents the second type. A list of limitations is attached directly to the freedom of expression clause. The list includes expression that interferes with the sovereignty and integrity of India....
    • Robert Trager, Donna L. Dickerson: Freedom of Expression in the 21st Century
  • Pandit Lekh Ram's Risala-i-Jihad was the object of lawsuit, in which Muslims demanded that the book be banned. After several rounds in court, they lost definitively in 1896. But the matter did not end there, for Lekh Ram was murdered in March 1897.
    • Elst, Koenraad (2001). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 108
  • Muslims in India have often sought shelter under Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code (I.P.C.) for preventing every public discussion of their creed in general and of their prophet in particular.1 Quite a few publications which examine critically the sayings and doings of the Prophet or other idolized personalities of Islam, have been proscribed under Section 95 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.) as a result of pressure exerted by vociferous, very often violent Muslim protests. Little did they suspect that the same provisions of the law could be invoked for seeking a ban on their holy book, the Quran.
    • Sita Ram Goel, The Calcutta Quran Petition (1986)
  • After the Babri structure came down, Shri N. Ram thundered at a conference in Delhi that the print media owed it to the nation as much as to itself to black out fully statements and activities of the Hindutva brigade.
    • Hemant Hemmady: Intolerance of the champions of freedom of speech, 1997, quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2001). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 79.
  • Generally, the death of a judge, in what seem to be mysterious circumstances, while presiding over a case against the second most powerful person in the country, and the closest associate of the head of the government, would be make prime-time television in a democracy. Similarly, the allegations of corruption against the family of the same person would have garnered media attention. But recent events in India prove otherwise. [...] But the more damaging development has been the role of the mainstream media in the face of government attempts to muzzle it. Just as in the judge story, there was silence about the corruption story in the media. Even when there was coverage, it was more about the defamation case filed by Mr. Shah rather than the merits of story itself. The rare television channel that has sometimes been critical of the Modi government and faced its wrath for doing so, succumbed, pulling down reportage about the Shah story. This is an extraordinary level of submissiveness displayed by the media. This must also be read in the context of the largest democracy’s abysmal ranking in the World Press Freedom Index. Last year, India ranked 133 out of 18 countries. And this year, it has declined to 136. Recently, the main mode of intimidation against journalists doing investigative stories has been through Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs), like the one filed by Mr. Shah. Journalists face severe challenges, including physical violence and threat to life, in carrying out their work. [...] So, the emerging “manufacture of consent” in favor of the ruling government does not happen only through active participation, or self-censorship on criticism by the media, but also as a result of the egregious threats that the media personnel face.
  • Jokes making fun of Mr. Modi, or Facebook posts of lay citizens, and films criticizing his government are met with police complaints, legal cases, and threats by the ruling party and its larger ideological family. BJP-led state governments have also introduced draconian bills to curb free speech. India’s democracy is at a critical juncture. After the Emergency declared by the Congress government in 1975 which legally curbed press freedoms, we have not witnessed such levels of abnegation of free speech. (The otherwise-activist Indian judiciary too has maintained a deafening silence on the judge’s death.) It would not be wrong to consider this present conjuncture as marking a deterioration in that regard.
  • If some people do not like a representation of art, there are other ways to counter it. I never support violent attack on artistic freedom. I also do not support the trend of issuing fatwa. But, there are politicians, who support or protest on the basis of religion. Why are rules being tweaked for one particular community in Bengal? Why did Mamata Banerjee’s government never allow me to work there, allow my books to be published? Freedom of expression, the most important character of a democracy, is always under attack for vested political interest. Nobody criticises things neutrally.
  • Every ban and censorship hurt. But banishment hurts the most. Banishment took away the ground from beneath my feet. What I need now most is a firm footing to stand up somewhere to fight for the freedom of expression. I was banished from both East and West Bengal.
    • Taslima Nasrin, Inteview with Firstpost, [1] (2016)
  • The situation in India is far worse than it is in other countries. The French Marxist scholar Maxime Rodinson's biography of the Prophet, Mohammed, is freely available abroad: its English edition is published by Penguin. It traces the revelations which appeared from time to time - specially the ones pertaining to personal law - to the personal dilemmas the Prophet was facing at that turn: such an exercise by an Indian scholar would be shouted down, and his book banned. Ali Dasthti's, Twenty Three Years to which I have referred earlier shows in graphic details how the Prophet's attitude to one thing after another - to power, to the Jews, to those who did not fall in line, to women - changed after his position in Medina became secure... The same book, had it been written by an Indian, would have called forth demands for a ban, demands which would certainly have prevailed.
    And the situation in India has been getting worse over the years. Imagine one of us - who happens to be a Hindu - writing today, "Excepting our own almost all the other great religions in the world are inevitably connected with the life or lives of one or more of their founders. All their theories, their teachings, their doctrines, and their ethics are built round the life of a personal founder, from whom they get their sanction, their authority, and their power: and strangely enough, upon the historicity of the founder's life is built, as it were, all the fabric of such religions. If there is one blow dealt to the historicity of that life, as has been the case in modern times with the lives of almost all the so-called founders of religions; we know that half of the details of such lies is not now seriously believed in, and that the other half is seriously doubted - if this becomes the case, if that rock of historicity, as they pretend to call it, is shaken and shattered the whole building tumbles down, broken absolutely, never to regain its lost status…" There would be a howl - "fascism," "cultural imperalism" - and demands that the book be kept out of schools and universities. Yet the passage is Swami Vivekananda's - and he makes the point repeatedly in almost identical words.
    Imagine a scholar today referring to the "obvious defects of the Koran," to the "crudities of the Koran". (...) Imagine a scholar writing this today - the book could be pounded on, effigies of the author burned…
    Yet the sentences are from that most effusive - and one of the shallowest - apologies of Islam: M N Roy's The Historical Role of Islam. In brief, the situation has worsened over the decades. No one today could write even this much, and it is only the good fortune that our people do not read these older books which allows them to continue in circulation.
    The point about Khomeini's fatwa is that it has worked: it has intimidated into silence scholars and writers all over the world. And the agitation against Hasan will work too: it took three years for a Muslim scholar to say as much - or, as little - as he did. It will take twice that many years for another one to say half as much.
    And no one has contributed to making these things work, to smothering free inquiry and speech in this vital sphere as the liberals and secularists. We supported the ban on Rushdie's book at that time, writes a leading commentator, as we knew the reactions the book would provoke.
    Does that "prudence" not go to the fundamentalists to work up a fury each time they want to have their way? Is that not what they are doing now?
    • Arun Shourie: The Point we always Evade (18 March 1992 in The Observer of Business and Politics), quoted from Goel, Sita Ram (editor) (1998). Freedom of expression: Secular theocracy versus liberal democracy. [2]
  • For example in Pakistan, as recently as October 31, 1991, all the five judges of the Highest Islamic Court ruled that the punishment for defiling the Rasul was death and not life imprisonment as the prevailing penal law provided. But in countries like India where the Shariat law no longer prevails, but where Muslim opinion counts, any critical discussion of the Prophet and Islam is regarded as lacking in good taste. It is unsecular, a great lapse from accepted ideological morality. Critical writings are as a rule edited out and even often banned.
    • Ram Swarup, Swords to sell a god, ( 16 June 1992 in The Telegraph) quoted from Goel, Sita Ram (editor) (1998). Freedom of expression: Secular theocracy versus liberal democracy. [3]
  • Are there no limits to what Muslims can demand, and get away with, in the imagined cause of their religion? ... There is no reason why our political leaders should have to start kowtowing and running scared everytime a bunch of semi-literate mullahs gets up and starts making a noise. ... We have just seen Shiv-Sena government in Maharashtra buckle under Muslim pressure and suspend the release of Mani Rattnam’s Bombay. It is a film about inter-religious marriage and the triumph of peace over communal hatred. ... After seeing the film they came up with a list of objections so absurd that they should have been considered ludicrous in our secular land but they have been taken seriously. They object, we are told, to the last shot. The Muslim girl while eloping with her Hindu husband carried the Koran in her hand. This was bad, they said, because it seemed to imply that her marriage had Islamic sanction. ... Nor did they approve of the film’s first scene which shows a woman lifting her burqa off her face.... Offence was taken, we are told, because a Hindu family was shown being burned alive. A Muslim family is also shown being similarly murdered, because this also happened in the terrible riots of 1992, but our Muslim objectors are selective in their disapproval.
    • Tavleen Singh: Indian Express, New Delhi, 16 April 1995 Pampering the minority ego, quoted from (1997). Time for stock taking, whither Sangh Parivar? Edited by Goel, S. R.
  • Ram Swarup, now in his seventies, is a scholar of the first rank.... No one has ever refuted him on facts, but many have sought to smear him and his writing. They have thereby transmuted the work from mere scholarship into warning. ... The forfeiture is exactly the sort of thing which had landed us where we are: where intellectual inquiry is shut out; where our traditions are not examined, and reassessed; and where as a consequence there is no dialogue. It is exactly the sort of thing too which foments reaction. (...)"Freedom of expression which is legitimate and constitutionally protected," it [the Supreme Court] declared last year, "cannot be held to ransom by an intolerant group or people." To curtail it in the face of threats of demonstrations and processions or threats of violence "would amount," the Court said, "to the negation of the rule of law and surrender to blackmail and intimidation.
    • About the banning of a book by Ram Swarup. Supreme Court quoted in Arun Shourie: Fomenting Reaction. 8 November 1990. Quoted from: Freedom of expression – Secular Theocracy Versus Liberal Democracy (1998, edited by Sita Ram Goel) [4]
  • There are definitions of hate speech based on the Khan Market consensus as to who should be allowed to speak and who shouldn’t. If the Khan Market consensus approves, you can speak anything and be applauded for it. But if the Khan Market consensus does not like you, then whatever you say is called hate speech. Today, sharing one’s experience of custodial torture (or just saying ‘I am not a terrorist’) is considered hate speech. But when someone calls Hindus terrorists, that is not hate speech... One person cries and narrates her torture, of being (stripped) naked and ill-treatment, you call that hate speech. And an entire jamaat (community) was called terrorist, called Hindu terrorism, is not hate speech? My quarrel is with the different scales of neutrality.
    • Narendra Modi. PM Narendra Modi Interview to Indian Express: ‘Khan Market gang hasn’t created my image, 45 years of tapasya has… you cannot dismantle it’ May 12, 2019 [5]

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