Opinion

Stifling Freedom of Expression makes the weakest suffer the most

ABVP members were at it again, beating up students/ activists who wanted to have a discussion over something. Despite clear evidence of the violence, and lots of gloating about the evidence, there (like always) are ‘neutral’ people who think that the ABVP members were right in their actions; that ‘anti-national’ folks need to be a taught a lesson; that ‘anti-national’ speech should not be allowed.
And like most times, these people are wrong. And they are so because the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Arup Bhuyan vs State of Assam agreed that speech “become illegal only if it incites to imminent lawless action.” The ‘imminent lawless action’ in this case was even before the speech was made.
Heckler’s Veto:
Heckler’s veto is when the State suppresses speech because it fears a violent reaction from those who might not be able to bear it. It is worth mentioning that the police is duty bound to protect every legal speech from every heckler. That ABVP and others cannot bear a discussion on some contentious issue, and that violence is invariably ensued is no reason that the student/ activists be asked to not speak.
The point that the ‘leftists’ constantly raise Kashmir bogey, and that their raising contentious issues is part of their strategy, well, so be it, it is still punishable if one beats them up; and the police is duty bound to protect them; and the State should be duty bound to raise the intellectual capabilities of its citizens and build an atmosphere where any discussion might take place.
The most an aggrieved person can do is complain about the speech to the police and let law take its course. And if that law is a weak thing; the ABVP and others should start a movement for better implementation of law and order, and better training and evidence gathering skills of the forces.

Relevance of freedom of speech:

Freedom of speech matters because it is only when we can speak and think critically can we better our standards of living.
An example worth mentioning is a series of tweets narrated by Vidya Krishnan (a journalist with The Hindu). During a protest at the 47th Union World Congress on Lung Health, she was told by the protestors that they could not have interrupted a conference in India as that might have led to sanctions by the government against their organizations.
That is a case where you see ‘chilling effect’ in practice. The public health has suffered because the activists are afraid to speak out. The same happens when one stops young minds from discussing ideas. The latest example being Gurmehar Kaur, who after having faced much abuse online has decided to lay low for a while.
The threats of violence at having expressed an opinion, and the no response from the State (a Minister actually questioned her fundamental right to speak) means many more voices are silenced. And it is without doubt the weakest who suffer the most, because for what it is worth, those actually advocating ‘azaadi’ are allies of the BJP in Kashmir. Those threatening violence against other religion (say Praveen Togadia and Akbaruddin Owaisi) roam free and continue to spread venom with impunity. While Prof. Nandini Sundar and others are charged with murder because they advocate rights for the tribals.
Freedom of speech matters because as Justice Brandies noted in Whitney v. California, “…it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones.”
Coming back, ABVP was wrong in beating people up. And if you do happen to support their actions, you are part of the problem, and the bleak future where many more are affected by tuberculosis because the government couldn’t care less, and the activists were scared to speak. Of course, bleak future will involve much more than tuberculosis, so please think, and do not be an encourager of unconstitutional acts.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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Akash Satyawali is a lawyer and currently works as a political consultant. He tweets at @AkashSatyawali 

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