top of page

Free Speech and Expression: An Indian Travesty

A part of being human is to be expressive in any form. Be it languages, facial expressions, gestures, books, movies, poetry, and the list could go on. Every piece of us and the art we create carries the privilege of having the freedom of speech and expression, also recognised as a basic right in most countries. India being a land of diverse people, faces the challenge posed by the notion of free speech and expression. Where dissent plays a huge part in a democracy, the government is always trying to safeguard itself and its image in the eyes of people, often stifling their right to free speech and expression. Here’s more on this by Perspectoverse’s Saachi Singh


Imagine taking out a small personal diary from your pocket in a stranded park to write your vivid and honest thoughts in, and being terrified of performing these menial actions. Imagine being reluctant to say anything other than what you’ve been taught. Imagine big brother’s eyes following you at every step, erasing your own expressions from your existence. This was the fate of Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984. But the world we live in isn’t his imagination; not a piece of literature but so much of the imagery of his creation can upsettingly be drawn from reality. What it also highlights is the importance of freedom of speech and expression- the very essence of human beings and their conscience, and the need to safeguard it at the stake of being subjugated.

India is home to a multitude of people of diverse thought processes and opinions that are accommodated under its umbrella. Some Indian states have more than 121 recognised languages, marking rudimentary cultural differences. But expression is so much more than just verbal communication, it also includes movies, books, songs, people’s unions, and so on. To protect this quality of human beings in every shape and form Indian constitutions give the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1). But since this freedom can not be enjoyed while stifling someone else’s, reasonable restrictions over the clauses in article 19(1) are included under article 19(2). Provisions of these rights duties have substantially improved the situation of people who earlier had no power to be expressive, especially marginalized communities such as lower castes who suffered even during the freedom movement to have a voice for themselves.

But has India lived up to its vision of creating a free and just society? It seems that these reasonable restrictions have long crossed the boundaries of being reasonable. There is outrage when a cartoonist draws honest governmental imagery, a comedian uses satire to narrate the realities of the society and a movie looks into inter-caste violence. Not to mention the term ‘anti-national’ labeled on people who merely exercise their right to speech and expression, and speak against the government and its policies.

Dissent is an important form of expression in a democracy. India would have not achieved colonial freedom if it wasn’t for the dissent of the subjects. The political development of the country allows it to be proactive, use the press as a branch of communication and take in public opinions to formulate policies. But does that hold up in the Indian context, where people are so polarised and politically charged that they refuse to even recognize others’ opinions and further amalgamation of religion and culture in politics leads to a surge of communalism?

The death of Father Stan Swamy, the Jesuit priest and a tribal activist imprisoned without any concrete evidence of the anti-governmental charges and neglected during deteriorating health, shed light on the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). A law that was first a terror law but now is being wrongly used against people who take part in ‘inflammatory actions against the government’ and incite others while the real picture is really just of people peacefully protesting against the government. Many activists including students have been imprisoned under this law, denying them bail on any condition. This is one example of how laws created to safeguard people’s freedom of speech and expression turn out to be exploiting them instead.

Tele-communication and Internet are major platforms for disseminating information and work as forums of conversations and debates. Government jurisdiction has expanded to these horizons to ensure no one is exploited but once again, the government overdoes its duties with a hidden agenda of safeguarding itself by re-examining movies after they go through the censor board, engulfing OTT platforms under it and making rigid rules to be applied to any form of art. This makes it harder for filmmakers to produce movies that are true and honest disregarding which political ideology they lean onto. Controversies are an obvious turn of events when it comes to any art that surrounds itself around or contests the topics of religion and politics. FIRs and allegations led the Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie ‘Padmavati’ to change its name to ‘Padmaavat’ just to escape the spiral it was going down. Comedians face the same fate when it comes to their mockery and satire.

In a developing political scenario, it isn’t just the entertainment industry that’s subjugated to many rounds of censorship but also public views in general, especially when they are echoed on social media sites. When the government abrogated section 370, which gave special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the government saw a fury of opposition regarding the move and so, it simply shut down the internet services in the state. It was only after one year that it was restored, causing huge economic and educational losses. New IT laws instituted after this major action and during the beginning of the COVID-19 surge eliminated any politically differing ideas by analyzing encrypted information, a move that was challenged by major companies like Facebook.

News disseminating press or what we call media in general terms, has been regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy. And since it forecasts information ranging from politics to technology, it also influences people. Or rather, from a politician’s lens, it influences the vote bank. The government has tried its best to regulate these companies to showcase the best of their actions, hiding the ground reality, but thanks to some independent news channels and a huge chunk of digital media, people can still see the world for what it truly is. India has been ranked 142 among 180 countries in the freedom of press index published by an organisation called ‘Reporters Without Borders’. To which, the government’s response was to attack the organisation’s baseless criteria and flawed algorithms. Ironically, it's nothing new if a journalist receives death threats on a daily basis, as it isn't the government’s job to do anything about it.

After inspecting our cruel reality, doesn't it feel like we’re living in Winston Smith’s world where a minimal tendency of self-expression against the government can get you behind bars? This is the condition of the freedom of speech and expression in a country that finds its pride in the system of democracy. While it’s no surprise that the cultural recognition of expression provides people with wide-ranging languages including sign language, colloquialisms, dances, folk songs, art, and literature, we should also learn to fight for the right to dissent.

After all, speech and expression aren’t always positive and rosy, as it can also be protests and petitions.

Written by Saachi Singh

Illustrated by Anushka Doshi


  1. "Article 19: Mapping The Free Speech Debate In India". 2015, pp. 7-8.,


  3. "Republic Of The Offended". The Hindu, 2021,

  4. "Explained: Who Was Stan Swamy, Arrested In The Elgar Parishad Case, Who Died On July 5?". The Indian Express, 2021,

  5. "Decoded | Spotlight On Terror Law UAPA After Stan Swamy’S Death". India Today, 2021,

  6. "Deciphering The World Press Freedom Index | NITI Aayog". Niti.Gov.In, 2021,

18 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page