Updated: Jun 2, 2021
The Indian Constitution under Part III provides the citizens certain fundamental rights, among which the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression has been given a great amount of importance as indirectly it allows, not only reasonably expressing them, but also engaging in dissent against oppressors, a sentiment derived directly from our freedom struggle.
In the case, LIC v Manu Bhai D.Shah, the Apex court held that “That a speech is Gods- gifted to mankind. Through speech a human being conveys thoughts, sentiments, and feeling o others, freedom of speech and expression is thus a natural right which a human being acquires on birth."
Article 19(2) imposes certain reasonable restrictions on these freedoms.
As a general rule of law, all constitutions of the world have given certain freedoms to their individuals. The preamble of our constitution also gives the object of the freedom of speech and expression.
The two aspects of Article 19(1) (a) are following-
(i) right of speech
(ii) right of expression
It means one has the freedom to speak. But this freedom is not absolute or complete; no one can speak in such a manner which is injurious to others and on such a matter which is prohibited by the law itself.
It means to express or propagate a thing. The expression may be done through written or through other legal means. The communication of speech and expression is a must. So the freedom of communication of speech and expression is also guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a).
The freedom is comprehensive and includes not only words spoken, but also the freedom of the Press, which is the basic essential of political liberty for the proper functioning of democracy.
The basic principle behind this freedom is the right of the people to know the truth. Some of the important cases related to this Article are discussed below-
Romesh Thapar v State of Madras, 1950:
Madras Government’s, ban order of entry and circulation of 'Cross Roads' a Bombay Weekly was held to be ultra vires.
Brij Bhushan V. Delhi:
Pre-censorship of 'Organiser' was held Ultra Vires the Constitution. Held, the 'Security of the State, in Article 19(2) did not empower the State to impose restrictions to control 'Public Order'.
This led to the First Amendment which introduced three grounds: 'public Order' 'Friendly relationship with Foreign Countries' and 'incitement to an offense.'
In Shailabala Devi's Case, the Supreme Court allowed publication of 'Sangram' as it contained only meaningless words, though high sounding and bombastic.
Bennett Colemen V. Union of India:
The G.O. prescribing the number of pages, at 10 to all newspapers under Newsprint Control Order was held ultra vires as it affected the circulation of newspapers.
In Sakal Papers V. Union of India, the restriction on prices of newspapers concerning pages and sizes was held wrong, by the Supreme Court as it affected the publication of supplements, etc.
K.A. Abbas V. Union of India:
Film censorship was upheld in this case as motion picture stirs up emotions than any other media. For the film, 'The Tale of four cities' 'U' Certificate was not granted.
The Court upheld the action of the Govt. The classification of films into "A" (for adults only) and 'U' (for all) was held valid.
In Namboodripad's Case, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and held that his attack on the judiciary, calculated to lower the prestige of the judges, amounted to contempt of the Court.
National Anthem Case 1986:
It was held that the right to speak also includes the right not to speak. In this case, three students of Jehyoah’s school were expelled by the governing body of this school on the ground of not speaking the national anthem with other students. The students then challenged it in court.
The SC held that the freedom of speech and expression also includes not speaking and not expressing. One cannot be compelled to speak or express.