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Author: Aniket Pandey, II year of B.A.,LL.B. from Department of Law, University of  Calcutta

Significance Freedom of Speech and Expression in a Democracy

Freedom of speech and expression is said to be the stockade of Democracy. Now, for the proper functioning of a Democracy, freedom of speech has been regarded as the primary condition. Giving protection to all other liberties, it occupies a preferred rank in the hierarchy of liberties. Thus, the same has been regarded as the mother of all liberties. It has a critical role in the formation of public opinion on matters like the economy, politics, and the overall society. In Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India [1], the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has clearly emphasized the importance and significance of the freedom of speech and expression in the following manner. According to the court, if the meaning of democracy is a government of the people by the people, it is certain that every citizen must possess the right to participate in the democratic procedure. This will essentially enable him to make a free choice and allow him to generally discuss public matters.

Definition of Hate Speech

It shall be important to understand that too much freedom to express oneself gives birth to what is known as hate speech. Now, there are huge variations in the definition of the same. merely, it does not refer to a hateful speech, since it is entirely appropriate to express hatred at heinous injustice. Rather, the same is a terminology used to refer to a particular expression of hatred against some particular groups of people in some particular contexts. As a consequence, in a practical world, freedom comes with certain reasonable restrictions to maintain a balance between free speech and hate speech. In this piece, the matter of discussion revolves around the determination of balance between free speech and hate speech.

The Two-Fold objectives of Article 19 of the Constitution of India

Our Constitution has imposed certainly reasonable restrictions under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Articles 19(2) to 19(6) serves a twofold objective, namely:

1. On one hand, it has been specified that the freedoms guaranteed them under Article 19 are not absolute, but are subject to certain reasonable restrictions.

2. While, on the other hand, there has been restriction imposed on the power of the legislature to condition these prerogatives.

Lack of emphasis on Fundamental Duties disturbs the balance between Free Speech and Hate Speech

We as citizens emphasize too much on our fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression but forget that our fundamental duties as prescribed under Article 51-A of the constitution are implicit in the concept of the former. As it has been mentioned under Article 19 that Freedom of speech and expression is subject to some reasonable restrictions. However, it is not possible to derive the exact definition of the word, “reasonable” [2]. Also, there has been no defined test to adjudge the reasonableness of a restriction. Each case is to be advocated on its merit, and no general pattern of reasonableness is to be applied for uniformly adjudging all the cases. Although the Constitution provides us with twelve fundamental duties, the question of its enforceability takes a back seat.[3] It enjoins a duty upon Indian citizens to promote harmony and the common spirit of brotherhood amongst everyone in India transcending religious, linguistic, and regional diversities. Now, this is quite natural that a certain group demanding the utmost freedom of speech in the country does not appreciate the same freedom for a group with a different ideological end. This ideology may be political, religious, or social. Here in one-way citizens or groups of citizens are against each other’s freedom to express one’s mind. This simply because they have forgotten or never knew the significance of their fundamental duties towards each other. These groups have forgotten the very principle of diversity upon which this nation was formed. In recent times, there has been a sudden surge in friction between groups with different ideologies whether political or socio-religious. It is a matter of perception and understanding of a particular thing per one’s pre-existing ideas and beliefs. A particular group with a certain political or religious ideology comprehends and perceives any expression or speech-based upon whether the same suit its ideological ends. Now, in case some speech or expression made by some other group does not suit the former’s ideological ends, then such speech or expression is perceived as hateful. Whereas, if an expression goes per their ideological or political end, then such an expression or speech is branded, ‘free’ in nature. Social Media websites like Facebook and Twitter have recently witnessed an upsurge in online hate speech or free speech. Different users with different ideologies clash against each other justifying their move. Now, some of these speeches are hateful on a general level. Making abusive statements against Gods and Goddesses or a particular religious practice, or the founder of some religion is generally considered Hate speech under Indian law. But most important laws and rules are to be properly enforced to prevent the actions consequent to hurt sentiments. Sometimes the failure of the state machinery to act on time causes huge destruction in the surrounding. For instance, recently a boy in Bengaluru city replying to some online abuse on his goddess posted a controversial statement regarding the Prophet of a particular religion. Now, seeing this, certain miscreants belonging to that religion torched the Police station and vehicles in a particular locality of the city. According to these miscreants, the failure of the Police to act on their complaint forced them to cause the ruckus. This was a failure of the state machinery to control a certain event consequent to a particular incident. Also, it is a bigger failure in understanding our basic duties as citizens of this country.

Biased Media Forums play a dominant role in disturbing the peace in society

Media has one of the dominant roles in disturbing the social balance and peace. Some of the media channels in India are paid agents of some big corporations with a particular interest. Now, most of these corporates are abroad and their only agenda is to shun the bitter truth and public opinion. These media channels disguising as the voice of the minorities, and other marginalized sections of the society mostly indulge in yellow journalism. As a consequence, other sections in the society voice against such biases of the media. Now, while voicing against such sold media forums, they sometimes indulge in making abusive remarks against a certain section of society. This society is probably the one mentioned above that receives tremendous support from the media. This voicing against the media and a certain section is considered hateful by the latter two. To attain and maintain a balance in society in terms of speech and expression, the media should disseminate public opinion. Indulging in yellow journalism and satisfying the interests of few groups may lead to riots in the country.


Circulation of False News and inflammatory speeches by different political leaders are some other important causes of the disbalance between free speech and hate speech. For instance, a speech made by some political leaders to placate his audience is thoroughly endorsed by his supporters. Notwithstanding, the hateful nature of the speech towards any particular religious group, or individual, is shamelessly defended by its supporters but at the same is perceived as hateful by some other group. We do have some diplomatic personalities who chose to remain politically correct irrespective of the nature of the speeches made. But thankfully we are losing such people as they have grabbed one or the other poles in the political spectrum. Lack of patience and understanding in human beings is to be blamed for the imbalance like the speech. To achieve a balance between free speech and hate speech, one needs to accept the truth notwithstanding its bitterness. Hypocrisy would only widen the gap between groups and consequently lead to war between citizens. The principle of Accommodation without Assimilation has been misunderstood by some of our country folks. Today people in India want accommodation but also expect the same with assimilation. They need to understand that difference of opinion and dissent is to be respected, irrespective of its sides. Only through this, we can expect some social balance and peace in society.

[2] Gujarat Water Supply v Unique Electro (Gujarat) (P), AIR 1989 SC 973

Author's Biography

Aniket is second-year student, (LLB 5 years) at Department of Law, University of Calcutta. He has got his several legal articles published in various legal blogs. His articles were mainly based upon subjects of Criminal, IBC, Trademark and Constitutional law. He had secured 12th rank in the legal entrance exam of the University of Calcutta.


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