Freedom of speech: Valueable, not absolute

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The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all citizens. It is enshrined in Article 19(1)(a).

A basic element of a functional democracy is to allow all citizens to participate in the political and social processes of the country. There is ample freedom of speech, thought and expression in all forms (verbal, written, broadcast, etc.) in a healthy democracy.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed not only by the Indian Constitution but also by international statutes such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (declared on 10th December 1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, etc.

It is very important to protect freedom of speech and expression because

For the discovery of truth by open discussion, it is an aspect of self-fulfilment and development, to express beliefs and political attitudes, and to actively participate in a democracy


Freedom of speech is not absolute. Article 19(2) imposes restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression. The reasons for such restrictions are in the interests of:

  • Security
  • Sovereignty and integrity of the country
  • Friendly relations with foreign countries
  • Public order
  • Decency or morality
  • Hate speech
  • Defamation
  • Contempt of court

The Constitution provides people with the freedom of expression without fear of reprisal, but it must be used with caution, and responsibly.

Debates around Freedom of Speech and Expression across the world are not new. In the Indian context, several recent incidents have heated the question of free speech in the politico-legal discourse. Today, from social media platforms to TV news channels, people have been debating around what we define as freedom of expression and what qualifies as restrictions.

It has been observed that the provisions of restrictions on the Freedom of Speech have given almost a free hand to the governments both at the Centre and states to suppress the voice of the dissenters and critics. Today, those who have been accused and charged under various sections under IPC for inciting violence have claimed that they are being wrongly implicated for raising their dissent voices.

It is true that the said provisions are often misused. The problematic thing is to decide these by the court on a case-to-case basis. Interestingly, the Supreme Court of India in the Shreya Singhal case, Justice Nariman suggested introducing the ‘test’ that clears the distinction between incitement and advocacy.

“If you are critical of the government on any issue that is an advocacy and you shouldn’t be charged on that. But if you are inciting the public to take up arms against the state then you don’t afford any protection,”

Free Speech is the backbone of democracies and if the government starts eliminating it, then the state is moving towards a despotic regime. unchecked freedom of speech and expression can also become catastrophic especially for countries like India which faces several national security threats across and within the borders of the nation.

Hence, it is important to maintain equilibrium on what lies under free speech and whatnot. Criticism of the government cannot be considered as incitement similarly criticism of public personality substantiated on evidence cannot be counted as defamation.


The Supreme Court orally observed that freedom of speech is not absolute during its hearing on pleas seeking stay on FIRs against actors and producers of Tandav web series on Amazon Prime.

“Your right to freedom of speech is not absolute. You cannot play the role of a character that hurts the sentiments of a community,” the bench said.

The bench observed that the right to freedom of speech is not absolute and is subjected to restrictions. The top court questioned, why petitioners have moved the court under Article 32.

The bench said the police can file closure reports too if apologies have been made.

Besides seeking quashing of the FIRs, the pleas have sought clubbing of FIRs.

The bench has sought responses from states such as UP, MP, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar and Delhi on the pleas.

Tandav, a nine-episode political thriller starring Bollywood A-listers like Saif Ali Khan, Dimple Kapadia and Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub, started streaming on January 15 on Amazon Prime Video.


The Bombay High Court observed that freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution is not an absolute right and refused to grant interim protection to a woman accused of making derogatory comments on Twitter against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya Thackeray.

The case relates to three tweets Holey had posted on different occasions. In the first tweet, Holey had shared a video of a man blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the coronavirus lockdown and tagged Thackeray. In the second tweet, she posted a caricature of the prime minister and the chief minister.

The third one relates to her response to an allegedly abusive tweet made by an unidentified user. The user had reportedly asked how Holey, a north Indian, could criticise ministers from Maharashtra, to which she had responded that it made no difference as she is an Indian.


Farmers mostly from the state of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have been in protest for the last 7 months. they have captured one highway going to the capital Delhi making it the site of protest. the protestors demand the repealing of certain laws made by the government of India. on the site of protest, several speeches have been so rough that it at times crosses the limits and become a threat. it is to see that whether the supreme court will interfere or a new democracy crisis will take place.



In another significant judgment, the HC of Tripura ordered the police to refrain from prosecuting the activist who was arrested over a social media post where he criticized an online campaign in support of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 and warned people against it. The High Court held that these orders are in line with the very essence of the Indian Constitution.

The ‘Pandemic’ video — which falsely claimed that wearing masks “activates” Covid-19 —and similar sources created a storm of misinformation that caused tremendous loss of life in America.

Later, Trump and his supporters tried to undermine the election process through their baseless accusations. Luckily, after years of not doing anything about disinformation, social media platforms have finally stepped in. Both Twitter and Facebook flagged Trump’s “disputed” claims.


Civil society provides one of the most basic guarantees to citizens i.e., freedom of expression in the context of speech. After concluding we can say that the right to freedom of speech and expression is an important fundamental right, whose scope has been widened to include freedom of the press, right to information which also includes commercial information, right to not speak and right to criticize.

In the modern world, the right to freedom of speech does not include only freedom to express one’s view through words but it has also included several means of communication to express one’s views. The right that we talked about is subject to reasonable restriction under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

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