Freedom is celebrated around the world in many forms. For some, doing anything which they want is freedom, while for some others expressing anything they want is freedom. But, there are several questions in my mind -
Is there any responsibility associated with freedom?
Hurting someone’s religious sentiments? Is that freedom?
To what extent is it okay to offend any ideology, faith or belief?
At this point, I remember a famous quote by George Orwell, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”.
And another famous quote by Salman Rushdie goes as, “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
These two quotes seem to contain the answer to my questions.
The responsibility associated with freedom exists but rarely do people take it up. Thus, freedom of expression, by default, comes with the freedom to offend.
And nobody is left unaffected by it - no religion, no caste, no ideology, no gender, no faith, no belief, and no human being!
Freedom of expression has been used to intentionally hurt, maliciously abuse, cause disgrace and deliberately instigate others. Thus, its misuse has seen various levels. Let us explore the freedom of expression in light of the Indian Constitution.
Freedom of Expression in the Indian Constitution
Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian constitution gave every citizen of India, the freedom of expression. It assures every citizen of their right to express their thoughts freely.
However, does the Government strictly abide by the rights guaranteed by article 19 to every Indian citizen? Or the Indian Constitution’s article 19 is a mere formality?
Well, I think it is a mere formality. Over the years, the parties in power, have used Section 295A of IPC (popularly known as Anti-Blasphemy Law) and Section 298 of IPC, to ban artistic works. These include the works of literature, films, art, music, etc. which oppose the incumbency.
The ban on Literature Works in India
This isn’t a new thing for Indians. Whenever an artistic work, which reflects the personal views of a person, express something out of the league, Section 295A and Section 128 of IPC come into action.
Section 95 of Criminal Procedure Code allows the state government to ban and forfeit a book if it appears to be in violation of Section 153A, 154B (causing communal division), Section 292 (Obscenity law), Section 295 A (anti-blasphemy law), Section 124A (sedition).
The following sections of our constitution enable the government to ban any book if it “Appears” to be in violation of the law. This law doesn’t imply that if the book really falls under any section, then the government can ban any book.
Thus, the government uses this law to suppress the voice of dissents. Since proper reasoning from the government isn’t required, the word “APPEARS” smoothen the way of politicians to ban books.
Some books are offensive and deserve a ban. In that case, the government must go to court and follow the procedure, i.e. if court verdict proclaims, “Book is violating the above section”, and then banning is legitimate.
But, this doesn’t happen in INDIA! If Congress found being written about “Emergency” offensive, it can ban the book. Similarly, if BJP finds “narration of 2002” offensive, it can ban books written about it.
But as per the existing law, both parties satisfy the definition of the word “APPEARS”.
Power of Literature in India
A few controversial books that were banned by the Indian government include - Lajja by Taslima Nasreen, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, Rama Retold by Aubrey Menen, and Ramayana by Aubrey Menen.
These books were banned from publishing and the reason cited was - “Hurting Religious and Cultural Sentiments”. But is that going to change anything?
Yes, it is going to. Literature is powerful enough to give people reason, vision, and horizons, that too, entirely new. Banning books (literature works) is proof for the same.
It is proof that books banned by the government are strong enough to bring about changes, which wouldn’t be liked by the government. It can set on movements and cause the loss in the next elections too.
Thus, banning any form of artistic work is the most effective way for the government to curb the voice of disagreement in the form of literary works. Is there any solution to this?
Congress Man Shashi Tharoor’s Literature Bill
Yes, there is a solution. Any law which contradicts the freedom of expression in any way needs to be amended. If a nation doesn’t tolerate criticism, it isn’t trudging on its path of Economic Development.
(FYI- The bill introduced by the MP of the non-ruling party is called “Private Bill” and it is presented in the Parliament only on Fridays.)
Mr. Tharoor is the Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram. He introduced Private Bill as “Freedom of Literature bill”. The bill aims to
Increase literary freedom in the country
Remove outdated provisions which aren’t congruent with the spirit of democracy, such as anti-blasphemy and obscenity laws.
Curb the power of government to ban books
To strengthen the roots of Literature Bill in India, Mr. Tharoor proposed to amend sections of IPC and CrPC, which are used as sideway by incumbency to ban books.
Thus, he requested the Honorable Lok Sabha to make amendments in Section 295A and 298 of IPC, which punishes acts done to outrage or wound religious feeling.
“Obscenity laws act as a major deterrent to literary freedom in the country,” said Mr. Tharoor
Besides sections of IPC, he proposed to amend section 95 and 96 of CrPC and “Indecent Representation of Women Act”.
But this isn’t the end. When the logic to curb/ban a book incumbency don’t possess, they raise the custom on the import of that book. Thus making it expensive and difficult for a reader to purchase.
Nations’ Vocabulary teacher, Mr. Tharoor, kept this too in mind. Thus, he requested to amend the Customs Act dealing with books.
Freedom of Literature Bill by Shashi Tharoor Details
As per the Shashi Tharoor Literature Bill, the central government cannot ban any book. The State still has the power to ban books, but now they have to be much more accountable to citizens and the author.
They have to cite apt and acceptable reasons for book ban. The Freedom of Literature bill weakens the government power to ban books but doesn’t take away the power per-se to ban books.
The bill provides an opportunity for the author to know the proper reason, as well as understand the court’s decision and reasoning to ban his/her book. The author will also know which section of the constitution is violated by the author artistic work (literature work).
This bill will boost the writer’s morale to pen his/her thoughts against incumbency, without any fear of power. Writers who raise several questions on blind faith, religion and everything which does not satisfy their conscience, get a chance to come forward.
The fantasy writers, who write erotic content, will have an opportunity to know at least the reason for the book ban, in case if it’s banned. The writer’s imagination will reach many unexplored regions and fortunately, the government will have to cite a proper reason to ban the book.
The government can no longer ban a book on its “APPEARS” definition. They cannot ban books for not being “SANSKARI”.
“Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity and suppress the truth.”, said Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo.
This is the truth. Harsh truth. A country which doesn’t tolerate criticism leaves no scope for the intellectual development of its civilians.
We hope Mr. Tharoor’s Freedom of Literature Bill comes into force soon. Let us have viewpoints and perspectives coming from all over India, both in favor of and against the incumbency!