Criminalization of defamation suppresses Free Speech!
With India being one of the most ancient civilizations in the world and the one which has practiced democracy in various forms since time immemorial, it is funny that we borrow from others’ constitution to make our own!
We may have been freed from prison of colonialism but the cages that bound us then still remain. Recent verdict of the honorable Supreme Court to uphold the criminalization of defamation as constitutional has evoked a spark among one and all. Polarizing views are being pitched in and everyone wants to have a say in it!The verdict suppresses free speech –1. Free Speech is a fundamental right -
Free speech is one of the fundamental rights of Indians as well as people all over the world. The constitution guarantees it for the Indians. The verdict that criminalizes defamation indirectly and directly acts as a barrier to free speech.2. Open to misuse -
This verdict can be misused to suppress dissent and criticism. Any attack or criticism against the government in power can be termed as defamation and silenced easily by clamping the sedition charges.3. Article 19 -
Criminalizing defamation strikes at the heart of article 19 of the Indian Constitution which bestows the Fundamental Right to speech and expression.4. Other countries have it as civil offense -
Many countries have done away with criminalizing defamation. They have kept it as a civil offense and not criminal offense.5. Fear inducing -
Many incidences till now have shown how criminal defamation has induced fear among people and has led to hushing up of legitimate dissent.6. Going back to the British era -
It is understandable that free speech should have restrictions but criminalizing defamation is like going back to the British era! And it was the British themselves who made this law of criminalizing defamation! A civil offense can be termed as a reasonable restriction on free speech.7. Public positions are bound to be criticized -
Political leaders, government and its institutions and public servants are for serving the people. They are bound to be criticized if they fail in their duty. Such criminal defamation would help them get away without any responsibility.8. Media -
Media which is an important pillar of democracy is the most hit by such decisions as they are in the forefront in this battle to expose the truth. The biggest repercussions would be seen on the Indian Democracy. Common people too are affected by this.Respect others’ reputation –1. Can’t malign others -
The honorable Supreme Court was bang on target on one observation, that defamation is being used as a tool to malign people’s reputation.2. Article 21 -
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes right to reputation. Recently, there is a decrease in respect towards others and slanderous remarks and comments are maligning not just people but also the authority.3. Blackmail -
Defamation is also being used to blackmail others.4. Harassment of public servants -
Defamation is one of the most commonly used methods to harass public servants doing their official duty. Pubic Authorities performing duties dedicatedly are being tormented if they do not heed to public opinion, even if the public opinion is wrong!5. Dissent is not banned -
Also, criminal defamation does not mean that dissent is banned. If the dissent is legitimate, the individual/s will surely get support from the nation as well as the judiciary. Criminal defamation was present since the British times, but since the dissent of our freedom fighters and national leaders was valid, the dissent gave way to our independence.6. Character assassination -
There have been recent incidences where the media has been involved in character assassinations of individuals or institutions.7. Don’t stoop -
Stooping to such level too is not good for democracy. Free speech has to have restrictions and criminal defamation can provide those. It also acts as deterrent.
Indian Penal Code was written in 1860 by Macaulay. It was here that Sections 499 and 500 prescribed punishment for defamation. King Henry VIII used criminal defamation for the first time officially to punish anyone disrespecting the authority. Such British remnants are not healthy for Indian democracy. It is time for drastic changes that are needed to maintain a balance between dignity of an individual and freedom of speech and expression. A 150 year old law can never help the democracy grow. Even the Indian Constitution adopted in 1950, has undergone several amendments to flow with the time. It is time to eradicate these colonial provisions and make a fresh start and fresh rules to have a harmony of freedom and responsibility.