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The Indian Constitution guarantees various fundamental rights to an Indian citizen. One such right is the Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Freedom of speech and expression enables a person to express his opinions freely with certain reasonable restrictions. Let’s delve into the details here.
We have to uphold a free press and freedom of speech. Because in the end, lies and misinformation are no match for the truth. - Barack Obama
The Indian Constitution guarantees various fundamental rights to its Indian citizens. Fundamental rights are the rights of each and every individual which they get from their birth. Fundamental Rights are individual rights that are enforced against the arbitrary invasion by the state except, in the case of Art. 15 (2), Article 17, Article 18(3-4), Article 23 and Article 24 where these can be enforced against private individuals also.
Fundamental Rights are not absolute rights of the citizens and law can put an enforceable reasonable restriction on the fundamental rights of the Indian citizens. Every right guaranteed under the Indian constitution comes with a reasonable restriction. The reason for restriction can be the advancement of SCs, STs, OBCs, women, and children; general public order; decency, morality, sovereignty & integrity of India; security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, etc.
The major fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution are as follows:
Right to equality (Article 14-18)
Right to freedom (Article 19-22)
Right against exploitation (Article 23-24)
Right to freedom of religion (Article 25-28)
Cultural and educational rights (Article 29-30)
Right to constitutional remedies (Article 32)
If any of your fundamental right is violated, you can file a writ petition or public interest litigation against the same either before the High Court or Supreme Court under Article 226 and Article 32 of the Constitution respectively. In the case of Palko v Connecticut [302 US 319 (1937)], the right to freedom of speech and expression was described as “the touchstone of individual liberty”, the matrix, and the indispensable condition of nearly every form of freedom.
Right to speech and expression in India is provided under Article 19 (1)(a) of the constitution and provides that every individual has a right to express one’s views and opinions without any limitation, restriction, and censorship. The essence of freedom of speech and expression is that words can be spoken in an open forum without any hindrance and this right is an essence of the free society.
The freedom of speech and expression in India includes that the opinion may be expressed by word of mouth, in writing, printing, pictures, or any other mode. The freedom of speech and expression includes a person’s right to propagate or publish the views of other people.
Constitution of India guarantees the freedom of speech and expression to its citizens under Article 19(1) (a). Apart from this, provisions relating to freedom of speech and expression are also contained under various international conventions like Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, etc.
The freedom of speech and expression in India enables its citizens to think and speak freely and put forward his/her opinions either verbally or in writing. However, the freedom of speech and expression does not entitle anyone to speak or visually represent derogatory and defamatory statement against anyone as every right has some reasonable restrictions.
Not only does freedom of speech and expression allow people to communicate freely with others regarding their feelings, ideas, views, opinions, etc, it serves a broader purpose. The need and purpose of freedom of speech and expression are classified into the following -
It helps an individual to attain self-fulfillment;
It assists in the discovery of truth;
It strengthens the capacity of an individual to participate in the decision-making process;
It provides a mechanism by which it would be possible to establish a reasonable balance between stability and social change.
National Anthem Case
Right to silence is also included in the Right to speech and expression. In the case of National Anthem, three students were expelled from the school for refusal to sing the national anthem. However, the children stood up in respect when the national anthem was playing. The validity of the expulsion of the students was challenged before the Kerala High Court and they upheld the expulsion of the students on the ground that it was their fundamental duty to sing the national anthem. However, on an appeal being filed against the order of the Kerala High Court before the Supreme Court, it was held by the Supreme Court that the students did not commit any offence under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. Also, there was no law under which their fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a) could be curtailed.
Accordingly, it was held that the children’s expulsion from the school was a violation of their fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a), which also includes the freedom of silence.
Recent Cases on Freedom of Speech and Expression
Defamation Case against AIB for making a meme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Comedy can also do harm. AIB was slapped with a case of defamation for making a harmless meme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with pictures of his lookalike on their official website. In the meme, the face of the PM was shown with the snapchat’s dog filter. The registration of the case was criticized on various levels. Mr. Shashi Tharoor, an honoured politician from the Congress, as a rebuke to this incident, used his own face for the filter and uploaded the same.
The arrest of Devu Chodankar for criticizing Prime Minister on Facebook
Minister of Goa named Devu Chodankar was arrested on the ground that he criticised the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi on Facebook by way of posting comments against him. He also raised concerns regarding the Christian Community.
The reason given by the Goa Police Cyber Crime Department for the arrest was that the custodial interrogation of the accused is very much essential to find out any motive of a larger game plan to promote communal and social disharmony in the state.
The case of Defamation of Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) by RJ Malishka
This case was initiated when RJ Malishka posted a video on social media. In the video, RJ Malishka was singing a song describing the plight of people and status of roads of Mumbai due to non-performance of work by BMC. For making this song, BMC slapped RJ Malishka with a defamation case for Rs 10,000 and also slapped a fine under her name, for letting a breed pool outside her house.
The BMC, who are not only criticised by the citizens but also by various stars, was swift enough to raid her house, without prior notice and book her for various issued a notice for defaults on her part.
Hamdard Dawakhana vs Union of India - In this case, the question was raised that restriction on the advertisements of drugs in certain cases and prohibited advertisements of drugs having magic qualities for curing diseases under Drug and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act is a violation of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. The Supreme Court held that an advertisement is no doubt a form of speech but every advertisement was held to be dealing with commerce or trade and not for propagating ideas. Thus, advertisement of prohibited drugs would, therefore, not fall within the scope of Article 19(1) (a).
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs Union of India - A Public interest litigation was filed under article 32 of the Indian Constitution in this case by the people’s union for civil liberties against the frequent instances of telephone tapping. By way of the public interest litigation Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 was challenged. It was observed that “occurrence of public emergency” and “in the interest of public safety” is the sine qua non14for the application of the provisions of Section 5(2). If any of these two conditions are not present, the government has no right to exercise its power under the said section. Telephone tapping, therefore, violates Article 19(1) (a) unless it comes within the grounds of reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2).
A. Abbas vs Union of India - In this case, the issue of prior censorship of film was brought into attention of the Supreme Court of India for the first time. It was said that the films under the Indian Cinematograph Act have been divided into categories of certification - U and A where U represents that the film can be seen by anyone without any restriction whatsoever and A represents that the movie is suitable for Adults only. In this case, the petitioner’s movie was refused U certification. He challenged that this process of certification is a violation of fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. The Court, however, held that motion pictures are able to stir emotions more deeply than any other form of art. Hence, pre-censorship and classification of films between ‘U’ and ‘A’ were held to be valid and was justified under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
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 Article 19 (1)(a) of the constitution- Article 19(1)(a) says that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a historic document that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at its 183rd session on 10 December 1948 as Resolution 217 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France.
 European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms- The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe.
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is an international human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1966.
 Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971- The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 is an Act of the Parliament of India which prohibits the desecration of or insult to the country'snational symbols, including the National Flag, the constitution, the National Anthem and map of India including contempt of Indian constitution.