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When you think you have the right to offend

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Only a month or so ago the Law Commission released a consultation paper on sedition in which it defended the right to offend. “Right to criticise one‘s own history and the right to offend are rights protected under free speech,” the Commission said. Yesterday, a freelance journalist Abhijit Iyer Mitra who approached the Supreme Court for anticipatory bail in a case relating to an objectionable video tweet from Konark temple was denied relief.

The bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi noted that he had “incited religious sentiments”. I have always held that without the right to offend the right to free speech does not have any meaning. I am also aware that free speech is not absolute and am absolutely opposed to speech that incites violence. I am ambiguous towards hate speech because I tend to think that the hate poured out in words exposes the bigot which wouldn’t be the case if hate works its way below the radar and surprise us with ferocious venality when it bursts onto the surface.

I am also aware of the state’s fear of free speech causing public disorder, but often I see the state citing public order to randomly curb free speech. States that take a weak-kneed position on those disrupting public order end up paying a heavy price in the long run.

Article 19(2) of Constitution places a number of “reasonable restrictions”on the exercise of free speech like “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of........

© The Times of India