Saturday, February 13, 2016

Freedom of Expression: Right and Responsibility

Let me start off by saying that I am what many describe as a bleeding heart liberal. If you believe that automatically makes me a “libtard”, “sickular”, “anti-national” or weak, please stop reading now.

I believe freedom of speech and expression – a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian constitution; a luxury people in many, many other countries cannot afford, yet we take for granted – forms the cornerstone of a true democracy. I have also maintained that government meddling in academic debates threatens free discourse. This freedom comes with a caveat. While it gives us the liberty to air our opinions, it also guarantees others the right to express their own opposing views, unpleasant and contentious as those views may sound to us.  Given the diverse cultures, ideologies and people that make the melting pot that is India, there are bound to be differences in opinions. Being open to voices of dissent and respectful of disagreements is the hallmark of an inclusive society.

However, I also believe that these rights should not be taken for granted or misused to spread propaganda that threatens integrity of the very state that guarantees such freedom. Nor should they be twisted to express solidarity to terrorists or preach radical ideology that goes against the interests of the nation. Is it reprehensible to honor men who plotted activities against the state, or to shout secessionist, anti-India slogans, in the name of free speech? I think so. Such actions should be condemned and discouraged, not praised in the name of freedom of expression. On the other hand, we must exercise utmost caution before jumping to the other extreme and calling for interference of the law to ensure punishment of “traitors”. It could be a slippery slope from applauding the arrests and charges of sedition against a few student protestors shouting slogans, to suppressing any dissent by cracking down on anyone speaking up against the government. Far-fetched as it sounds, sometimes “that is how freedom dies… With thunderous applause.”