While the founders of the Indian constitution were drafting various provisions including those relating to the freedom of speech and expression surprisingly, they did not mention any specific mention of “freedom of the Press” specifically in the Chapter on Fundamental Rights. Dr. Ambedkar however clarified later that it was not necessary to stipulate it specifically as it is implicit in the guarantees of Freedom of Speech and Expression in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. Despite the constitutional guarantee, press in India has been inhibited by barriers caused by religious, social, linguistic differences and government restrictions off and on throughout its 64 years of existence.
It might sound fatuous and gibberish to some people, but the curtailment to press has heralded the valley over the years, Nevertheless, freedom of expression is essential for the political liberty and proper functioning of democracy but in reality article 19 (1) (a) has lost its meaning and significance over the years. After independence, freedom of expression has been transgressed by those in power for their own self interests. And in recent years, there has been marked increase in the number of attacks on journalists by police and unidentified gunmen, operating at the behest of state or local officials or politicians. Further, many states and local governments in India have seriously chilled genuine exercise of freedom of expression by detaining a number of people on scarce suspicion of co-operating with militants and the best example is Kashmir, where due to government restrictions press is in a sorry state, unable to expose truth. Many journalists in Kashmir received serious injuries and dead threats if they exposed government’s own terror machinery.
The recent incidents in Kashmir pertaining to restriction of press to cover even Republic day, to cover stories militants, their funerals has significantly portray a palpable desperation on the face of power holders.
On October 13, 2018, Jammu and Kashmir police barred reporters from covering local elections in certain polling stations in Srinagar even though they were carrying an authorization letter from the state election commission.
On October 17, 2018, Jammu and Kashmir police beat up at least six journalists covering a military operation against militants in Srinagar. On October 19, 2018, three journalists with Kashmir Walla–Saqib Mugloo, Kaiser Andrab, and Bhat Burhan–were beaten outside their office and then picked up by the state police.
On October 30, 2018, a videographer working with Zee News, Aijaz Ahmad Dar, was shot with pellets from a pellet gun by security forces while covering a clash between protesters and security personnel in South Kashmir’s Sopian district.
Comiti Paul Edward, a French journalist and filmmaker was arrested previous year and what he conveyed later will augment my opinion. In his 25 years covering conflicts across Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, Israel and Palestine, Edward claimed he had “never felt like this way before”. “I almost felt like I was in North Korea. It was as if they had so much to hide that they just do not want any international media here,” he said.
At this juncture, we don’t have to allow the brutal murders of independent voices like Shujaat Bukhari and Gauri Lankesh to instil fear in the minds of independent journalists and thinkers. The killings have left a clear message: stand up for what you believe in, fight out relentlessly regardless of the consequences. The untimely killing of the fiercely independent journalists is certainly an attack on the freedom of press. The World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters without Borders mentions that journalists were increasingly targets of online smear campaigns and threats while “Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government.” It is high time the government reassures journalists and comes out with a legislation providing fool proof protection to journalists.
The onslaught of a repressive regime aims at every sphere of oppressed peoples’ life. It ruins economy, savages culture, cripples industry and attempts to corrupt intellect. It kills the oppressed nation in instalments. However, the first target always is its press. This all is shockingly accomplished with the help of collaborators amongst the oppressed. A group of people, open to temptation, ready to be corrupted is identified and made to act as arms of oppression, bravo the oppressor and condemn the oppressed. The group comes up with a million false justifications in support of oppression and pretends to heal the wounds inflicted by it.
Speech is innate to all human beings and a precious gift from God to mankind, which a human being acquires at birth. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organizations. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers. Human beings covey their thoughts by sentiments or expressions, right of expression, therefore, is their basic human right. However, many attempts have been made to restrict freedom of expression by imposing laws or censoring free speech or by asking press to toe government’s line even in thriving democracies like India.
The freedom of speech and expression is regarded as first condition of liberty. It occupies a preferred and important position in the hierarchy of the liberty, it is truly said about the freedom of speech that it is the mother of all the other liberties. In modern time it is widely accepted that the right to freedom of speech is the essence in the society and it must be safeguarded all the time. The first principle of a free society is an untrammelled flow of words in an open forum. Liberty to express opinions and ideas without hindrance, and especially without fear of punishment plays significant role in the development of the particular society and ultimately for the state. It is one of the most important fundamental liberties guaranteed against state suppression or regulation.
The freedom of speech and expression is a very important fundamental right under the Constitution. It is indispensable for the development of one’s own individuality and for the success of parliamentary to democracy. It is said that in a democracy the right to free expression is not only the right of an individual but rather a right of the community to hear and be informed.
(The writer is pursuing graduation in Nursing at GMC Srinagar and can be reached at:[email protected])