27 Sept 2016 | GS2 | What do you understand by the concept of freedom of speech and expression? What is its status in India today?

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What do you understand by the concept of freedom of speech and expression? What is its status in India today?

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Freedom of speech and expression is the ability to express oneself without fear or favour through any communicable medium.
The right to freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution under Article 19(1)(a).
It is an important pillar of democracy. Though fundamental, it is subjected to reasonable restrictions given under Article 19(2) which includes sovereignty and integrity of the country, public order, morality or decency, incitement to an offence, etc..
Like Art 21, Art 19(1)(a) too has some implicit rights as given by Supreme court of India like right to silence, right to dissent and right to information (until 2005).
Its violation is also expressed in the form of sedition (IPC Sec124A) and defamation cases(IPC Sec 499, 500). For example, Perumal Murugan and Aseem Trivedi cases.
The Court has held ambivalent relationship with freedom of expression. For instance, in the Shriya Singhal case, the SC struck down Sec 66A of IT Act, 2000 for violating Art 19(1)(a). And, recently the Bombay HC upheld right to reputation over right to expression.
Today, freedom of speech and expression is threatened because of
# archaic laws (sedition, defamation) that are largely undemocratic
# imperfections in judicial system especially lower judiciary
# rise of emergency politics (since Ayodhya and Mandal agitations)
# declining tolerance in political sphere that dissent is seen as sedition
This indicates an urgent need to inculcate democratic values deeply. With the support of Supreme court, certain ambiguous terms in the archaic laws can be demystified.

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