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June 03, 2017

Essays for IBPS PO 2017 : Freedom of Expression vs Nationalism

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Freedom of Expression vs Nationalism

  • Define the concept of freedom of speech.
  • The meaning of the term nationalism. 
  • Freedom of speech has emerged gradually.
  • Importance of freedom of speech. 
  • The concept of nationalism. 
  • Debate between freedom of speech and nationalism.
  • Different incidents fuelled up the debate. 
  • Freedom of speech and nationalism can co-exist, not mutually exclusive.
"I may disagree with what you say. But I will defend to the death your right to say it." 
Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the Constitution of a free society is dissolved and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Freedom of speech and expression is the right of every person to express his or her opinion, ideas, thoughts on any subject without fear of persecution or censorship by state. The Constitution of India has provision for freedom of speech and expression in Article 19. 

Nationalism on the other hand as described by Merriam Webster dictionary is, "A feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries" or "A desire by a large group of people who share the same culture, history, language etc to form a separate and independent nation of their own." The recent debate in India on freedom of speech and expression vs nationalism erupted due to clash of thoughts between for right groups and the rest. The line often gets blurred between Nationalism and Jingoism. Thus, they trample the freedom of speech and expression.

The concept 'Freedom of Speech' had emerged gradually during the European Enlightenment. England's Bill of Rights (1689) granted 'Freedom of Speech on Parliament.' This concept is also inspired by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen adopted during the French Revolution in 1789. In India, the Rowlatt Act in 1919 gave extensive powers to the British Government and the police to control Individual rights and freedoms like restrictions on public gathering, censorship of the media and publications etc. Public apposition to this Act led to the non-voilent Civil Disobedience Movement throughout the country under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Here freedom of expression became the main issue of nationalism. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantee the right to freedom of speech and expression. The right is vital in the sense that it facilitates attainment of other human rights too. Freedom of expression is applicable at two levels, individual and state level. At the level of individual, freedom of expression allows one to understand their surrounding and the world as a whole by the exchange of ideas and information. People are able to express their opinions freely of these rights are secured and ensured by state. On the other hand, from the perspective of a state, freedom of speech becomes important for social, economic, political advancement of the nation as a whole.

This right enables honest, competent people to administer the state in every field viz politics, bureaucracy, judiciary, media etc. It also promotes citizens to put these authorities under constant scrutiny. The result is good governance. It also promotes public debates and discussion on policy, legislations, actions of state. This helps public forums to become a market place of ideas. Similarly, it also enables implementation of human rights. media and public scrutiny of human rights highlights act of commission and omission by state. In these two perspectives freedom of speech and expression is very fundamental for realising full potential of a human being. However, it is said, "Rights are commensurate with responsibilities." Article 19 (1) of Indian Constitution describes the freedom of speech and expression. Article 19 (2) enumerates on the reasonable restrictions on this right i.e. security of the state, friendly relations with other countries, public order and decency, contempt of court, defamation, incitement of offence, sovereignty and integrity of India. 

Nationalism, on the other hand is a modern concept. It is an adhesive which keeps the members of a particular territory to identify themselves as a unit. Historians are of the opinion that it emerged in 19th century, thus regarded as modern concept. It is a modernising concept as it facilitates growth and development. State intervenes with its various organs to ensure welfare of its citizen. In this process, the citizens of the state form a sense of cohesion. The binding forces are our freedom struggle, culture, language etc. These forces make us feel pride for our nation. 

However, more often it has been seen that in this quest of nationalism and sense of pride the members of state become ultra-nationalist. Inadequate values of tolerance for others results in infringement of their rights. The recent case of JNU, the debate between Freedom of Speech and Nationalism got highlighted. In JNU, in 2016 an incident occured where sloganeering took place, rather jeering which provoked nationalistic sentiments. It was a gathering where students had assembled to condemn the capital punishment handed out to Afzal Guru. However, some elements in the crowd resorted to sloganeering against India, calling for its disintegration. The issue got blown out of proportion due to three reasons. One, sloganeering by elements inside the gathering against India. Two, police excesses and misrepresentation of facts in front of public. Three, media scrutiny and hype that was created. Further more students were frisked out by police on trumped up charges. Also, they got manhandled in court premises in front of camera. AU these incidents fuelled up the debate of Freedom of Speech and Expression vs Nationalism. In another event in 2016 in the Maharashtra Assembly, a member was forced to chant a particular slogan. Members of a particular community in India need not always show their allegiance to the nation by shouting a particular slogan. Freedom of Speech and Expression also includes right to be silent. Forcing some one to say something is an infringement of this right. Moreover, nationalism is not just manifested by shouting a particular slogan. We follow the tenets of our Constitution in letter and spirit, that is nationalism. 

Similarly, when the pot was already boiling, the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar issue came up. When India was defeated by West Indies in T-20 World Cup in 2016, in NIT students were divided for and against India. Local students cheered for to West Indies and non-locals who outnumbered the locals inside the campus cheered for India. The issue assumed new dimensions as it got connected to political issue of secession of Kashmir from India. Security was beefed up in the campus and made it even worse by presenting a picture of battlezone. 

The issue was again on the debate of Nationalism vs Freedom of Speech and Expression. Freedom of Speech is essential for our society. It is a powerful instrument for all civilised and democratic nations of the world. Without it our literature, science, art and music cannot flourish. But the Right to freedom of speech is not absolute. It is bound by our social duty and moral obligation. It must be exercised with caution, keeping in mind otheris sensitivities, otherwise it misuses its application. 

Freedom of speech and expression and nationalism can coexist. They are not mutually exclusive. However, there are certain red lines to be drawn on both sides. Jingoism or ultra nationalism should not stifle freedom of speech and expression. Similarly, there are restrictions on freedom of speech. These should be adhered to and expressing slogans for destruction of India is uncalled for. We can conclude by quoting Pope John Paul II : "Pervading nationalism imposes its domination on man today in many different forms and with an aggressiveness that spares no one. The challenge that is already with us is the temptation to accept as true freedom what in reality is only a new form of slavery." 

Difficult Words with Meanings :
  • Persecution harassment
  • Trample to treat as if worthless or unimportant
  • Commensurate equivalent or proportional
  • Cohesion the act or state of keeping together
  • Infringement breaking a law or rule
  • Secession the fact of an area or group becoming independent from the county
  • Beefed up made something bigger, stronger and more effective
  • Stifle to prevent a feeling from being expressed
  • Pervade to spread through and be noticeable in every part of something.
shared by Nisheeta Mirchandani
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