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9th April '2014
Hypocrisy of the Freedom of expression

The recent incident involving threats to Kashmir based columnists has raised many questions about the most cherished human right of the freedom of expression. In fact any talk about this right is becoming hypocritical. One of the most fundamental pillars in a democratic set up is the right of a person to express freely without any fear his views on any subject including the functioning of the state itself through any medium he desires to use. Constitutions of all free and democratic countries guarantee this right to their citizens. Wikipedia gives an interesting detail including the history of the right of freedom of speech and expression. It would be useful to quote some of the passages in original:

“Concepts of freedom of speech can be found in early human rights documents. England’s Bill of Rights 1689 granted 'freedom of speech in Parliament' and is still in effect. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted during the French Revolution in 1789, specifically affirmed freedom of speech as an inalienable right. The Declaration provides for freedom of expression in Article 11, which states that: “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law." Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Today freedom of speech, or the freedom of expression, is recognized in international and regional human rights law. The right is enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.”

The height of hypocrisy is the way India treats this right in Kashmir. Article 19. 1 (a) and (b) of the Constitution of India states that “All citizens shall have a right to freedom of speech and expression and to assemble peacefully without arms.” These expressions seem to have disappeared from the copies of the Constitution of India which cross into Jammu & Kashmir from the Indian mainland. For last couple of decades every attempt at free assembly and expression has been curtailed by the authorities by employing various overt and covert means. This fact has been repeatedly commented upon and vehemently opposed by the International Watch Dog Organisations of the fundamental human rights. However, in view of the violence from all sides, the major concern in this part of the world has been regarding the right to life which too remains suspended due to certain draconian legislations giving total and absolute immunity to the security forces for all their alleged acts of killings. The major concern of one and all at the moment is to make the security forces accountable for all their actions. Incidentally, the exercise of the right to write does not seem to bother the authorities so much. One can see many writings criticising the authorities in all spheres incisively in most of the print media.

On the contrary, it has been observed that the people who claim to struggle for these very fundamental rights sometimes go to the height of hypocrisy by showing intolerance even for objective and unbiased reportingof facts. Of course, they have every right to question any writing belittling or denigrating a person. Nor does the freedom of expression itself allow abuse or denigration. There are legal as well as moral safeguards for that in every society. In any case, neither the state nor any individual citizen or his supporters have any right whatsoever to threaten a writer for his writings especially if these do not have any denigrating or abusive content and are just objectively reported facts. Normally one would expect people aspiring for ultimate freedom to be more open to even constructive criticism to enlighten them about various possible pitfalls and risks involved in such movements. It sometimes happens that there is an abundance of certain followers who try to be more loyal than the king and by their actions cause more harm than good! However, it is incumbent upon a king to rope in and keep in check such overenthusiastic followers in the interests of the overall movement for its ultimate success. That is the only way to escape the label of hypocrisy. It is a universal truth that often wrong means result in a wrong end and people professing high ideals end up as hypocrites!

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