The Price Of Freedom Of Speech In India? Re 1, Jail, Even Death

Yeh Jo India Hai Na... if we value our freedom of speech, then nobody can put a price to it. Even Re 1 is too much.

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Video Producer: Shohini Bose

Video Editor: Deepthi Ramadas

Cameraperson: Abhishek Ranjan

Yeh Jo India Hai Na… Freedom of Speech ki yahan kya keemat hai? For some it is ONE RUPEE. For some, it is PRICELESS!

Cost of Freedom of Speech For Dr Kafeel Khan – Months In Jail, NSA Charges

Ask Dr Kafeel Khan, freedom of speech cost him many months in jail, thanks to an illegal detention order issued by Chandra Bhushan Singh, District Magistrate of Aligarh.

Ordering Khan’s release, the Allahabad High Court said –

“A complete reading of the speech primafacie does not disclose any effort to promote hatred or violence. It also nowhere threatens peace and tranquility of the city of Aligarh. The address gives a call for national integrity and unity among the citizens. The speech also deprecates any kind of violence. It appears that the District Magistrate had selective reading and selective mention for few phrases from the speech ignoring its true intent.”

The high court also criticised the use of the National Security Act or NSA, to extend Dr Khan’s detention, saying –

  • No material was shared to show he was a threat,
  • He was not even on the UP Police charge sheets for the violence in Aligarh on 13 December.
  • Clearly the NSA order was an after-thought and so, it was illegal
So, did Chandra Bhushan Singh, District Magistrate of Aligarh, trample all over Kafeel Khan’s freedom of speech, just to please his political bosses in UP? And is that all right?

Cost of Freedom of Speech For Devangana Kalita – Months In Jail

Then, Pinjra Tod activist Devangana Kalita. The cost of freedom of speech for her is over 3 months in jail, and counting. The Delhi High Court granted her bail in a case related to the violence in Northeast Delhi in February 2020. She had been charged with

  • attempt to murder
  • rioting
  • criminal conspiracy

But the court said –

  • she only took part in a peaceful agitation, which is her fundamental right
  • the police had no evidence of her making a hate speech or instigating violence
  • she should not suffer any further unnecessary harassment, humiliation and unjustified detention.
The irony is that Devangana will remain in jail as she’s in custody for another case filed under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, for allegedly being part of a “premeditated conspiracy” in the Delhi violence.

And of course, under the UAPA, the police can hold an accused in custody without sharing evidence for up to 6 months. So, has Devangana, and several other critics of the government, been arrested under UAPA because perhaps, there is no evidence against them that will stand in a court of law? And curtailing freedom of speech in such a manner, is that all right?

Cost of Freedom of Speech For Suresh Chavhanke – Nil

What is the cost of freedom of speech for Suresh Chavhanke, head of TV channel Sudarshan News? No cost. Not even when it twisted into freedom to make hate speech.

A few days ago Chavhanke created the term ‘Naukarshahi Jihad’ or bureaucracy jihad or UPSC jihad – claiming that ‘jihadis from Jamia’ will soon be district collectors and secretaries in government ministries. His claim was based on the news that 30 students of Jamia Millia Islamia University cleared the UPSC exam this year – painting their success as an Islamic conspiracy!

Chavhanke even tagged PM Modi and the RSS in his bureaucracy jihad tweet:

The Price Of Freedom Of Speech In India? Re 1, Jail, Even Death
(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

He was so sure of scoring brownie points with them!

But in fact, Chavhanke is wrong. Far from taking over the Civil Services, here's the actual data –

The Price Of Freedom Of Speech In India? Re 1, Jail, Even Death
(Graphics: The Quint)
The Price Of Freedom Of Speech In India? Re 1, Jail, Even Death
(Graphics: The Quint)

And what about the thousands of Muslim soldiers in the Indian Army? Will Chavhanke call that ‘Fauji Jihad’? Maybe even redefine late Abdul Kalam’s career as ISRO Jihad. After senior godi media journalist Sudhir Chaudhary showed us his Jihad chart – describing wild phenomenon such as 'Bollywood Jihad', 'Media Jihad', 'History Jihad' and more, recently he even coined 'Corona Jihad'

I guess for some journalists, freedom of speech is now conveniently confused with freedom to promote bigotry. And for any ‘libtard’ dismissing Chavhanke as the loony fringe – do note that he and his channel have over 300,000 followers on Twitter, and 1 Million YouTube subscribers.

Cost of Freedom of Speech For T Raja Singh – Nil

Also apparently confused between freedom of speech and bigotry are some of Facebook’s top officials in India. A Wall Street Journal report has revealed that even after BJP MLA from Telangana T Raja Singh had been red-flagged internally for hate speech, Facebook’s Public Policy head in India, Ankhi Das, advised against banning him, reportedly telling colleagues “that punishing violations by politicians from Modi’s party would damage Facebook’s business prospects in India, its biggest global market by number of users."

A TIME magazine report has also claimed that Facebook’s former public policy director for India and South Asia, Shivnath Thukral, ignored key communal hate speech violations that were pointed out by ‘Avaaz’, a hate speech watchdog group.

The key questions remain –

  • Yes, Facebook has finally banned Raja Singh, removing at least five Facebook profiles dedicated to him, along with an Instagram account. But isn’t this too little too late?
  • Will the next Raja Singh be banned only when Facebook faces another PR nightmare?
  • Also, when is India’s own legal system going to tackle Raja Singh?
  • The MLA has several cases of hate speech pending against him, with no known progress in any of them. Are we okay with that?

Cost Of Freedom of Speech For Prashant Bhushan – Re 1

A lot has been said about the 1 rupee fine that the Supreme Court has imposed on Prashant Bhushan for contempt of court. It's a nominal amount but it’s still a PUNISHMENT.

Bhushan had filed a 134-page affidavit explaining his tweets, citing instances of when he believed the court had failed to protect fundamental rights or had been opaque in its functioning – to show that his comments amounted to ‘fair criticism’ and so was not contempt. But by almost entirely ignoring his affidavit, the Supreme Court seems to have a clear message for all citizens – that the court is above criticism. For all those who value freedom of speech – is that all right?

Cost of Freedom Of Speech for Gauri Lankesh – Her Life

And finally, let's ask one more person the price of freedom of speech – late senior journalist, Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead on 5 September 2017. The price of freedom of speech for Gauri Lankesh was her life.

Yeh Jo India Hai Na… if we truly value our freedom of speech, then surely, NOBODY, NOBODY can put a price to it. Even 1 rupee is too much…

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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