COMMON MAN’S FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Updated: Jan 4, 2021
Chinmayee Ashutosh Katre, B.A.,LL.B. from ILS Law College, Pune
“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice, makes democracy necessary.” This has been aptly stated by Reinhold Niebuhr. The Indian society is caught in the vicious cycle of electing celebrities as their rulers. These rulers are further idealized and idolized to the extent of God.
As citizens and/or naïve devotees they worship these rulers often forgetting the rulers’ human character. The British left India, leaving the legacy of ‘Nabobs’ behind. These benevolent monarchs use their power for the greater good (of their pockets). They are safeguarding freedom and its guarantor by these acts of kindness. People bow down before them and overlook the negatives until the extent of putting their rights at stake. How is glorifying elected rulers at deities or heroes in consonance with the idea of democracy? Does this signify tacit acceptance to the highly criticized theory of divine origin? The makers of the Constitution put their sweat and blood to ensure that the forthcoming generations wouldn’t have to face the grave injustice done by colonial anarchy. They debated for hours about the nuances of exclusion or the inclusion of a few letters, phrases or something even as trivial as punctuation. To call punctuation trivial would not be wise because who other than the legal fraternity would know about the importance of punctuation, words and expression. In the Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. VII, Mr. Mahboob Ali Baig Sahib Bahadur has emphasized that fundamental rights are permanent and sacred. They ought to be guaranteed against coercive powers of the State by excluding the jurisdiction of the executive and legislature. The German Constitution during the Nazi regime is a notorious example of what we ought not to do. Hitler could make the legislature pass any law, and any citizen that chose to oppose that law in any manner would find himself in a concentration camp. That was the epitome of totalitarianism and fascism.
Our ancestors lived through years of autocracy and despotism. We choose to accept and live with these perils even after seven decades of independence. The mishap that occurred with Mr. Madan Sharma is not an issue that sprang up yesterday. Preferential treatment is preferred to those sitting at the peak of the economical and political hierarchy. They have enjoyed this position since Nehruvian times. A quick reference to the legendary General Thimayya is essential here. He had the courage to say that if they could not defend the honour of the women, they could be expected to defend the honour of the country. This happened back in 1959. Would it be incorrect to say that we were descending the ladder of freedom?
World over, Indians are applauded for their tolerance. Have we also become tolerant of rampant injustice? Article 38 of the Directive Principles of State Policy enunciates the duty of the State in rendering justice. Spreading legal awareness among people is a part of this duty. The ruling government however has never been interested in doing its duty. In the recent past, it has been occupied with harassing a woman, attacking an ex-navy officer for sharing a cartoon caricature of the CM, silencing political commentators who raised concern about the role of a particular organization in spreading a pandemic and lodging a non-cognizable offence against a doctor for terming the leader of a particular organization a “terrorist”. Another example worth mentioning here would be that of V.K. Sasikala. She was the secretary to the late former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha. While serving time at Parappana Agrahara Central Jail, Bengaluru, a sum of Rs. 2 crores exchanged hands.
A separate kitchen, free movement in the jail premises were among some of the perks provided to her. And instance of her meeting a visitor for more than 4 hours was also reported, while the maximum time a prisoner is allowed to meet a visitor is 45 minutes. A similar situation took place in Tihar Jail, Delhi when Mr. Subrata Roy, former Chief of Sahara India Parivar, was alleged to have paid a bribe for preferential treatment. That included an air-conditioned room, a western toilet, a mobile phone and wifi among other things. There is a section of media and activists who run under the slogan ‘Democracy is under threat’. Where is this section hibernating in situations like these? Or do their microphones only appear when favours are done for them? How do we justify the glorification of suicide committed by an ‘outsider’ celebrity when more those 1.3 lakh suicide deaths were reported in India last year? Where is the protector, guarantor and interpreter of fundamental rights? Why are they enjoying the show as mute spectators? It is evident that the elected monarchs don’t wish to be dethroned by those who crowned them in the first place.Hence, the real picture is being blurred by them. Selective raising of voices is in vogue. Voices are only raised in matters concerning the highly influential strata of society.
As citizens of democracy, it is our duty to present these questions in the public arena. This problem has been part of our history since the days of Mahabharata when Dronacharya asked Eklavya for his thumb and has continued till date. A parallel can be drawn between that story and the present day situation. Eklavya cut off his thumb and presented it to Dronacharya, as ‘Guru Dakshina’, when he asked for it because the former considered him as his Guru or mentor and had faith in him. The ‘thumb’ in that story symbolizes the ‘vote’ of the common man today. The latter votes for a particular leader because of the belief he has in him. Once the leader is elected, the common man who bestowed that faith is forgotten. Attempts to curb this problem haven’t been very successful in the past because it is stubborn and resurfaces time and again. Not only is the State heavily involved, but so is the public. The moral, ethical, legal, cultural and social aspects are the real challenges to it. To say that a solution can be found is naïve because the problem can only be controlled and not completely eradicated. Common man is at the center stage. Voters should have the real power so that they will not be bulldozed once the ruler is elected. They should have the right to recall, so that rulers will be held accountable. If people can vest the power, they should also be able to divest it in exceptional circumstances. The system of checks and balances should be brought from paper to reality because it has been rightly stated by Lord Acton; Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.