Abhishek Manu Singhvi wrote an article for the Times last week – “Unpopular free speech”–
Are we, as a nation, losing our capacity for tolerating free speech, which is contrary to our views or sensitivities? Are we so hemmed in by the burdens of propriety or public office or identity politics or regional compulsions or the pressure to conform or other media pressures that unconventional or radical views are suppressed? Are humour, creativity, free speech, the right to be eccentric and a maverick being compromised?
The boundaries of obscenity have, since time immemorial, been the battlefield of such conflicts. Courts have valiantly extended society’s limits of tolerance by inclining towards free speech and artistic expression. But the issue being raised here is not one of legal interpretation but of diminution of space of the simple right to hold and propagate unpopular views without being gagged or demonised.
Such an article is as pointless as lighting a candle for the victims of terror attacks. Singhvi has been an Additional Solicitor General of India. So, before writing nice articles like these, he should explain why article 19(1) of the constitution places “reasonable restrictions” on free speech, and what is the logic behind the laws on defamation, slander and libel. Once these two thorns are permanently removed, and the right to free speech is made absolute, the chaddi walas, and the crackpots protesting on the streets of Calcutta, and the Shiv Sena, and various “liberal” television reporters, and disgruntled police commissioners, and any other prudish fascist outfit or person can be told to take a hike – no Censor Board, no book-banning and burning, no nothing. Anyone in the government willing to take up the challenge? I didn’t think so – our free speech advocates have their own definition of “free speech”, just like Stalin and Goebbels.