‘Absolute freedom of speech and of expression has never existed in civilized world and it shall never exist’. This is not a tyrant’s remark but a statement by someone who has historically and empirically analyzed the world to reach this conclusion. This is a statement by a person who sees the world not through J.S.Mill’s notion of liberty but by the events that have occurred across the world, in developed and developing countries over the decades that have passed.
The debate over freedom of speech and expression has gained ground in the Indian media. The issue was obvious to surface considering the colossal victory of a political party which had so far played a minor role in the Indian politics. I see the sudden concern of Indians about their freedom of speech and expression as an elongated ripple created by the results of 2014 general elections and the following student body elections in central and state universities in which the major ruling party was dethroned by a secondary and a minor political party and its student wing.
What is most amazing rather spectacular is the manner and expertise with which the Indian media and the Indian politicians manage to create a sham controversy by hiding/cloaking the real issue. In this essay I would attempt to highlight the fallacy in the methods and manners of our media and of the opposition party, the hypocrisy embedded in their attitude and stands. I will also explain how and why absolute freedom of speech and expression is practically unattainable.
The Indian press was tagged by one of the Indian ministers as ‘Presstitutes’. The term was used to the highlight the sellable nature of it. Yes, the Indian media (I do not know of media in other countries) is one which readily sells itself to the highest bidder and henceforth it starts to exercise its power to shape public opinion in favor of its owner. What is all the more amusing about the media in our country is the hypocrisy which is evident in the stands it takes over issues. A glaring example of it and the one which fits best to the theme of this essay is given below.

Case 1 – THE JNU ROW
The most famous case, the case which laid down the foundations of the entire debate and controversy is the JNU row. It so happened that some students of Jawaharlal Nehru University while conducting an event started shouting pro Pakistan slogans and even went to the extent of shouting out slogans which could potentially damage the territorial integrity of our country and could have even resulted in chaos. What followed was a crackdown by the Indian police and all those who had organized the event and were allegedly yelling anti-India slogans were charged with sedition.
A lot of hue and cry and politics and even opportunism followed. No one wanted to miss this opportunity to make profits and gains. The politicians saw this as a chance to hit upon the present government while for the media personnel it was a golden opportunity to make some money. No one actually cared of the consequences their stands would have on the nation or on law and order and all were busy supporting people who were by law suspects of a gruesome crime. They did not even realize that their rigorous opposition of police and government action implicitly meant a display of ‘no confidence’ in the Indian judicial system which was to decide the case in days to come. Certainly and suddenly the legislators had turned into judges.
What I wonder, not as a supporter of the present government but as a rational citizen, is why was the Prime Minister targeted for the arrest of alleged criminals, criminals not by some strange standards set by the government but by standards set under law and by a law which has existed for over a century and a law which even the Congress (the party which vehemently opposed government action) when in power did not care to remove. If ‘sedition’ for congress and those who opposed it implied a denial of freedom of speech and expression then why was it never done away with when their parties were in power.
Returning to the role of media in the controversy, they started with an absolute and outright opposition of the actions of the students in the university but as the controversy grew, their opposition grew weaker and very soon they were seen criticizing the government over their actions against the alleged criminals. The intellectuals in our country too started to criticize the government and the criticism reached heights when a Yale university document was cited which virtually instructed our government on how to deal with such situations. Opposition poured in from all directions and it was displayed as though in last couple of years we had been living under the rule of a tyrant.
Let us now compare this controversy and people’s reaction to it with another controversy of a similar nature and the reaction of people there in.

A more recent case where in the infamous AIB group posted a video online which allegedly mocked Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar, the two demi-gods of our nation. It was an exercise of freedom of speech and expression on a social network and as trend goes, it shouldn’t have met any opposition at all. However, those who had so far in the JNU row been vouching for absolute freedom of speech and expression were seen criticizing the video and the AIB group was even asked to remove the video from the internet.
The ideal which everyone had so far advocated during the JNU row was manifested in the video posted by the group and an outright opposition of the video by the very same people only showcased the hypocrisy and shallowness in their stands. The politicians had little to say and if they at all said anything it was but in support of the two icons.
I was humored (not surprised) by the sudden transformation of libertarians into conservatives. The media too did not care to elongate the issue for it would have only displayed their double standards. I doubt if anyone can still state that the Indian media and the Indian intellectuals aren’t hypocrites or aren’t ‘Presstitudes’.
The two cases stated above though belong to the theme of free speech and expression but they belong to different realms of it. While the first case is a case of exercise of free speech and expression in context of a nation, the second case is case of exercise of free speech and expression in context of an individual. And the cases illustrate how the demand is for freedom in context of the nation and not in context of individuals.
This distinction and division of freedom of speech and expression is what makes its absolute enactment a complicated and virtually an impossible process. Not just enactment, the advocacy for grant of freedom of speech and expression is not for an absolute form of it but for a minor part of it.
The freedom of speech and expression can therefore be divided and subdivided. These divisions would simplify our understanding of the stated freedom and shall raise a number of questions answering which we can come to a conclusion as to what kind of freedom of speech and expression do we demand and why and what is the probability of having it.

In the chart drawn above, we can see that freedom of speech is not one simple or generalized freedom and also that we have never demanded an absolute freedom of speech and expression but have demanded an absolute freedom of speech and expression only in the context of nation and this can be proved by the two cases given above in the paper.
The most disturbing question raised by this understanding is, is an individual greater than a nation? We are ready to tolerate hate speech against our nation but we aren’t so tolerant when it comes to hate speech against individuals.
Is it the nation that sustains the individuals or is it the individual that forms a nation. The consensus on this is unattainable and this is in fact what fundamentally divides the present government from the one that previously existed
Coming on to the sub categories of freedom of speech and expression in context of individuals, the freedom in context of common individuals does not exist and is not even demanded while in context of celebrated individuals there is still a certain degree of freedom which is enjoyed by others but this too is limited and the degree of permissible freedom is defined by the numerous factors which even vary from case to case. In case of common individuals, the respite is provided by laws such as law of torts against such exercise of freedom by the other person which may affect my dignity or may defame me or may infringe upon my exercise of freedom of speech and expression.
Your freedom ends where my nose begins’.
1.      Nation
Laws such as sedition
2.      Individual
No demands
Laws – defamation, torts etc.
2a.  Celebrated
No demands
Laws – Defamation, torts etc.
2b. Common
No demands
Laws – Defamation, torts etc.

Our demands for freedom and of liberty have restrained to the spheres which do not touch upon us directly. Certainly, for us the individual means more than the nation.

I had stated in the very beginning that the absolute freedom of speech and expression has never existed in a civilized world and shall never exist. I stand with the statement made. Ever since the dawn of civilizations, our words and our deeds have had an impact of some sort or the other.
With the passage of time and with the growth of civilizations we were supposed to have become tolerant and were granted absolute freedom of speech and expression but again this freedom was/is absolute only as long as its exercised upon the nation we belong to and not upon the individuals around us. The constitutional freedom of speech and expression granted to the citizens even in the most liberal states is therefore only partly absolute.
I must also state that the growth of humanity and of the notion of freedom has been terrific; it has been soo phenomenal that it has virtually dissected the individual and his/her nation apart. We have turned into pseudo liberals, we want to be free to attack in the name of liberty but we do not want to be attacked upon for the same sake.
The whole movement for the freedom of speech and expression can be summed up as, ‘A mutual consensus among individuals who having realized their notorious tendency to create chaos and also knowing the fact that they cannot do so against each other without risking their lives have decided to target the state to fulfill this tendency and they therefore call upon the governing body for the granting of absolute freedom of speech and expression in the name of extension of liberty so that they may evade any charges that may follow from the chaos they create’. 

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