A great judgment by the Indian Supreme Court

Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

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The judgment relied on the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to all Indian citizens by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

A BENCH OF the Indian Supreme Court consisting of Justice Abhay S Oka and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan gave a historical judgment on 7th March this year.

The facts of the case were that a Maharashtra college professor, Javed Ahmad Hajam, posted a piece on whatsapp critical of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and wishing Pakistan on its independence day.
Consequently the police lodged an FIR against him under Section 153A (promoting enmity among different classes of people) of the Indian Penal Code.

Quashing the FIR, the Court held :

 “The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Every citizen has the right to offer criticism of the action of abrogation of Article 370 or, for that matter, every decision of the state. He has the right to say he is unhappy with any decision of the state”.

judgmentThe judgment, which relied on the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to all Indian citizens by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, is particularly significant in the present context in India when any criticism of the government or its Ministers is often viewed as an offence of sedition or some other criminal act punishable under the Indian Penal Code. Numerous people, e.g. Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Islam, Prof GN Saibaba, the Bhima Koregaon case accused, etc have been arrested and jailed for long periods for doing this.

Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra of Jadavpur University was arrested and jailed for sharing a cartoon of CM Mamata Banerjee, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was jailed for making a cartoon against our politicians, folk singer Kovan was arrested for criticising the liquor policy of the CM of Tamilnadu Jayalalitha, farmer Siladitya Chowdhury was branded by CM Mamata Banerji as a maoist and arrested for saying that she had not fulfilled her promises to farmers.

Likewise, Manipur journalist Kishorwechand Wangkhem was arrested for criticising CM Biren Singh, a UP journalist Pavan Jaiswal was booked on a criminal charge for reporting that children in a school were getting only roti and salt as a midday meal, etc. Numerous other similar examples can be given.

The judgment has therefore come as a breath of fresh air in India, and will make a huge impact, striking a blow for freedom of speech, and the right of people in a democracy to criticise the government.

Some time back, Justice Abdul Quddhose of the Madras High Court in his landmark verdict in Thiru N. Ram vs Union of India and anr observed,

“A very important aspect of democracy is that citizens should have no fear of the government. They should not be scared of expressing views which may not be liked by those in power.”

He went on to say, “Criticism of policies of the government is not sedition unless there is a call for public disorder or incitement to violence”, and added that government authorities must develop a thick skin.

Recently Justice Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court similarly held that those who cannot tolerate criticism are unfit for public offices

It is high time for the Indian Supreme Court to resume its role of protector of the rights of the people. punjab

Also Read:

The effect of religious polarisation in India 

Congress – Where is it heading? 

AI To Help Win Electoral Battles

ਉੱਲੂ ਨੇਤਾ ਅਤੇ ਭੇਡਮਈ ਵੋਟਰ

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Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.

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