Human Rights and Freedoms in India: Analytical Essay

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The Constitution of India covers a broad spectrum of domains to protect the rights of the common man by introducing six rights as Fundamental Rights (Part III of the Constitution). Part III consists of Article 12 to 35 dealing with these six Fundamental Rights. This Part is called the Cornerstone of the Indian Constitution (Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan) and together with Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy) is known as the ‘Conscience of the Constitution’.

India’s experience with Rule was painful because basic rights were dependent on the whims of the rulers. Hence, our Constitution secures to the people certain basic rights which cannot be trampled by the state. In this respect we have followed the American Constitution. The Constituent Assembly decided to safeguard certain rights.

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Part III of the constitution covers all the normal civil and political rights enumerated within the universal declaration of human rights. Dr Ambedkar described them as the most citizen centric part of the constitution. Fundamental rights were deemed essential to guard the rights and liberties of the people against the arbitrary actions of government. They are the basic rights which can be enforced in court of law.

The Indian constitution guarantees six fundamental rights namely Right to Equality (Article 14-18), Right to Freedom (Article 19-22), Right against Exploitation (Article 23-24), Right to Freedom of Religion (Article 25-28), Cultural and Educational Rights (Article 29-30) and Right to Constitutional Remedies (Article 32). There was another fundamental right in the Constitution, i.e., the right to property. However, this right was deleted from the list of fundamental rights by the 44th Constitutional Amendment. This was because this right proved to be a hindrance towards attaining the goal of socialism and redistributing wealth (property) equitably among the people.

This essay focuses on the Right to Speech as a Fundamental Right, given under Article 19(1)(a), which forms a part of Right to Freedom. This implies that every citizen have the right to express their views and opinions freely. However, the freedom of speech is not absolute. Article 19(2) imposes restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Right to Freedom

The articles 19, 20, 21, 21A and 22 contain the provisions of the right to freedom. Article 19 incorporates 6 rights within it which guarantees Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom to Assemble, Freedom to form Associations, Unions or Cooperative Societies,

Freedom to Move freely, Freedom to Settle and Reside and Freedom to practice any Profession.

Article 20 of the constitution gives protection in respect of conviction for offenses. Article 21 of the constitution gives Right to life, personal liberty and Right to die with dignity. Also, Article 21A gives a Right to Education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years. Article 22 gives protection against arrest and detention in certain cases.

The right to freedom is essential because it’s a basic human right. The Indian national struggle against colonialism was a fight to be free of foreign imperial rule, and also to live life with dignity, to determine how to live, in accordance with law, profess any occupation or trade, speak and express freely, move and reside in any part of the country, and ultimately to be able to live meaningful lives with security. Hence the Indian Constitution provided these rights to the citizens.

Right to Speech and Expression: Scope

This Fundamental Right is one of the most important and but also the most controversial rights given under the Indian Constitution. According to Article 19(1)(a): All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. This implies that all citizens have the right to express their views and opinions freely. This includes not only words of mouth, but also speech by way of writings, pictures, movies, banners, etc. The right to speech also includes the right not to speak.

The right to freedom of speech and expression also includes the right to print, communicate and advertise the information. Freedom of the press is an inferred freedom under this Article. To preserve the democratic way of life it is essential that individuals should have the liberty to express their feelings and to put forth their views in front of people at large. The press, an influential medium of mass communication, should be free to play its role in building a strong viable society. Denial of freedom of the press to citizens would necessarily undermine the power to influence public opinion and be counter to democracy.

Freedom of Press is not specifically mentioned in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and what is mentioned there is only freedom of speech and expression. In the Constituent Assemble debates, it was made clear by Dr B.R. Amdedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, that no special mention of the freedom of press was necessary at all as the press and an individual or a citizen were the same as far as their right of expression was concerned.

Right to Speech and Expression also includes the right to access information because this right is meaningless when others are prevented from knowing/listening. The Right to Information (RTI) is a fundamental right according to this interpretation. The Right to Information Act, 2005 empowers the citizen of India to get any information from the public authorities. The preamble to the Act states that it has been brought into force so as to set out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities. This will promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority in India. The Indian parliament enacted the Act to make the public authorities bound by the provisions of the Act to furnish the information to the citizens as the rights of the citizens are classified as Fundamental Rights under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India.

Right to Speech and Expression: Purpose

Freedom of speech not only allows people to communicate their feelings, ideas, and opinions to others, rather it serves a broader purpose as well. It helps an individual to attain self- fulfilment. It assists in the discovery of truth. This is because only through freedom of press and voicing of opinions freely by individuals, can ensure that the truth is presented to the society about various issues.

It also strengthens the capacity of an individual to participate in the decision-making process. In a democracy this is ensured through having a right to elect representatives of your choice, who in turn put forward the demands of the citizens in front of the government.

Another important purpose is that, the right to freedom of speech provides a mechanism by which it would be possible to establish a reasonable balance between stability and social change.

Freedom of speech and of the press lays at the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free political discussion, no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the popular government, is possible.

Restrictions on Right to Speech

Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian constitution imposes certain reasonable restrictions on free speech which are security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency and morality, contempt of court, defamation, incitement to an offence, and sovereignty and integrity of India.

However, the right to life and personal liberty cannot be suspended. The six freedoms are also automatically suspended or have restrictions imposed on them during a state of emergency.

Some Important Judgements

Over the years the High Courts and the Supreme Court have given various orders and judgements regarding the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, providing it a wider meaning, which is a sign of strengthening of democracy.

In the Romesh Thapar vs State of Madras (1950) and Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi (1950), the Supreme Court took it for granted that the freedom of press was an essential part of the right to freedom of speech. It was observed by Patanjali Sastri J. in Romesh Thapar case that freedom of speech and expression included propagation of ideas and that freedom was ensured by the freedom of circulation.

In the case of Indian Express vs Union of India (1985), it has been held that the Press plays a very significant role in the democratic machinery. The courts have duty to uphold the freedom of press and invalidate all laws and administrative actions that abridge that freedom.

The Supreme Court observed in Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms (2002), ‘One-sided information, disinformation, misinformation and non-information, all equally create an uninformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. Freedom of speech and expression includes right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions’.

In this case, public interest litigation was filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution by People’s Union for Civil Liberties, against the frequent cases of telephone tapping. The validity of Section 5(2) of The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 was challenged. It was observed that “occurrence of public emergency” and “in the interest of public safety” is the sine qua non for the application of the provisions of Section 5(2). If any of these two conditions are not present, the government has no right to exercise its power under the said section.

Another landmark case of Shreya Singhal v Union of India (2015) is a landmark case that played a very important role in the Indian legal system. The case challenged the constitutional validity of section 66A and led to the striking down of section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000. Section 66A defines the punishment for sending “offensive” messages through a computer or any other communication device like a mobile phone or tablet and a conviction of it can fetch a maximum three years of jail and a fine.

In recent times, there has also been a backlash against the Sedition Law given under Section 124A of the IPC, which have been misused to clamp down on dissent, as claimed by many critics and the opposition parties. While the validity of this law can be debated but its misuse will definitely go against the principles of freedom of speech and expression. In September last year, Justice Deepak Gupta of the Supreme Court delivered the valedictory address at an event. topic, ‘The Law of Sedition in India and Freedom of Expression. He said that law of Sedition needs to be toned down if not abolished and any attempt to stifle criticism will turn India into ‘a police state’.


Speech is God’s gift to mankind. Through speech a human being conveys his sentiments, thoughts, and feeling to others around him. Freedom of speech and expression is thus a natural right, which a human being acquires on birth. It is, therefore, a basic right. “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” proclaims the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

The people of India declared in the Preamble of the Constitution, which they gave unto themselves their resolve to secure to all the citizens liberty of thought and expression. This resolve is reflected in Article 19(1) (a) which is one of the Articles found in Part III of the Constitution, which enumerates the Fundamental Rights.

From this analysis it is evident that the Courts have always placed a broad interpretation on the value and content of Article 19(1)(a), making it subjective only to the restrictions permissible under Article 19(2). Successive governments have also been of the opinion that people’s right to speech must be well protected, to ensure their participation in not just self-development but also development for the country as a whole.


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