The upon the creativity of filmmakers by

The recent spat and
accompanying violence perpetrated by various fringe groups (especially Karni
Sena ) over the film ‘Padmavat’ aptly testify the lack of substantive freedom
of speech and expression in the world’s largest democracy . The film faced
unprecedented restrictions in the history of Bollywood – missing its initial
release date of Dec 1, 2017, forced to change the title itself from ‘Padmavati’
to Padmavat , its filmmakers and actors’ life constantly being threatened . Not
only this, even after being approved by the Central Board of Film
Certification, highest authority to rule in matters of film certification, the
film was banned by the state governments of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat
and Uttar Pradesh under the influence of fringe groups – an apt example of how
much heed government pay to institutions like CBFC .Finally, the Supreme Court
has to be petitioned to get these illogical bans removed. The Padmavat has not
been an exception but rather history of Bollywood has been a history of
illogical restrictions put upon the creativity of filmmakers by the
institutions like CBFC –

‘Lipstick Under My
Burkha’, ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ , ‘Udta Punjab’ to name a few . However, it
should be highlighted that the case of fringe groups taking a centre stage and
becoming a decisive factor in influencing the release of a film has rarely
happened before the Padmavat . This is only one aspect hampering freedom of
speech and expression. It is pertinent to discuss various nuances of this right
here. The Constitution of India under Article 19(1)(a) has provided each
citizen a fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression . It implies
that every citizen has the right to express his views, opinions, belief and
convictions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, picturing or in any
other way. Though fundamental , the State can impose reasonable restrictions on
the exercise of this right on the grounds of sovereignty and integrity of India
, security of the state , friendly relations with foreign states , public order
, decency or morality , contempt of court , defamation , and incitement of
violence . But, a proper demarcation between restriction and freedom has not
been drawn and thus, at times, government has been misusing this weapon in
their hands for their vested interests. 

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Though the freedom of
press does not find a separate enunciation, it is a part of Article 19 (1)(a)
as per the decisions of Supreme Court . India is ranked 136th out of 180
nations in the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders is a big
blot on high democratic credentials Indians boast off . As per media watchdog
Hoot’s 2017 report, 54 journalists have came under attack in 2016-17. What the
stories behind each attack clearly bring to the fore is that journalism,
especially investigative reporting, is increasingly becoming a dangerous
occupation. If the increasing attacks on journalists are worrisome, so is the
fact that the state wields a strict baton when it comes to news that may not be
to their liking. The Andhra Pradesh-based Sakshi TV discovered to their
surprise that their outspoken coverage of the Kapu agitation – led by a former
minister – left their channel blocked in the state.  Andhra is not the
only state to have used these means of censorship. In Kashmir, after Burhan
Wani’s killing, the media was harassed and censored, with two of the largest
newspaper offices raided and printing presses shut down. The Kashmir Reader,
which was doing on ground reporting of the situation in the Valley found itself
labeled anti-national and banned for three months. On the national front, the
present government has been widely criticized for trying to put a one-day ban
on NDTV in November 2016 due to the allegation that it showed sensitive details
regarding the militant attack on the Pathankot airbase. The June 2017 CBI
raid on the offices and house of NDTV executive Prannoy Roy has been described
by the media fraternity as direct assault on their independence . Apart from
this, violence has been inflicted by groups, who think content unfavorable to
them has been broadcasted. Satish Deshpande, a professor of sociology at the
University of Delhi, thinks the government’s failure to condemn this violence
has contributed to its normalization and, in turn, an increase in
self-censorship. The World Press Freedom Index, too, noted that
self-censorship is on the rise in Indian mainstream media. Another important issue
to be highlighted here is the ever-increasing use of sedition laws beginning
with the JNU incident – over 35 cases have been registered in 2016 under
sedition charges (Section 124A of IPC). The jingoistic political bodies like
ABVP have created tensed environment throughout the educational institutions
such as the one which took place in Ramjas College as Umar Khalid was invited
for a literary event in the campus. Archaic Sedition laws at least require to
be reviewed if not deleted. Also, according to The Hoot, the internet was shut
down 31 times in India in 2016, and 14 times in 2017 (till May). These
internet shutdowns take place under Section 14 of the Criminal Procedure Code
(CrPC), despite questions of the constitutional validity of such actions and
who the power lies with. This certainly highlights the government’s
incompetence to handle the situation through other means and willfully taking
away from citizens the right to connect them throughout the world, which has
became a necessity of 21st century.

 

All this aptly shows
that citizens’ freedom to speech and expression is restricted on various counts
and most times on baseless reasons. This trend has certainly increased with the
coming of new government in the centre in 2014. Its high time that the
government should understand the importance of this right and the adverse
effect arbitrary restrictions bring for the functioning of our democracy. The
judiciary could also play a vital role in protecting the citizens’ right by
drawing a clear demarcation between freedom and restrictions so that misuse by
government becomes difficult. The civil society should maintain its vigour and
enthusiastically fight against every arbitrary restriction put up by the
government. Also, fringe groups and jingoistic elements should be fought
against to maintain the essentially democratic charter of our country. Lastly,
it would be in the interests of citizens and lead to enforcement of their
rights if each individual obey the reasonable restrictions. All these would
surely require some time to become a reality but the future society would
certainly become FREER AND HAPPIER.