Is this the age of superficial freedom in India, where opinions don’t stand for an individual’s point of view anymore?

There is no denying that we live in intolerant times. No matter how much we fight it or ignore it, we belong to a generation where everything we say and everything we do is put through a litmus test of stringent scrutiny by those around. Gone are the days when only weapons and explosives could wreak havoc in the lives of people. If you’ve been paying any attention to the events transpiring around you, then you will nod in agreement when I tell you that ‘speech’ and ‘expression’ have become the new weapons of mass destruction.

The last time I checked, a person’s opinion meant his ‘individual’ view about something. And according to our Constitution, all individuals possess the right to free speech and expression, by which we are free to express our views and convictions through any communicable medium or visible representation. Then of-late, why is there such a furore over utilising this very right to expression?

Political humour depicted through Mamata Banerjee’s cartoons and Narendra Modi’s spoof website, movies like Thalaivaa, Vishwaroopam and Madras Cafe, Kashmir’s all-girl band, comments and posts on social media platforms, and innumerable books and personalities in India have faced the heat of recent curbs on speech and expression.

But if you take a closer look, it is not these individual entities that have been restricted from their rights. In the cross-fire between freedom and restriction, the right to speech and expression itself has taken a blow. How comfortable are we today to express our views and opinions freely, without having to worry about the outcry it may cause? What have we done to make our right to ‘freedom’ of speech and expression sound so sardonic in India?

To avoid this type of animosity, we are encouraged to increase our tolerance towards each other. But perhaps, trouble begins from the term ‘tolerance’ itself because we tolerate something we dislike or detest. May be we should just practise acceptance — acceptance that people may have an opinion that is different from ours. The right to free speech and expression of all individuals is a prerequisite to freedom and liberty.

Of course, our Constitution has also imposed reasonable restrictions on this fundamental right to make sure it isn’t misused by anyone. But it isn’t restrictions that are spelling trouble for us.

Misfortune befalls us when power becomes a barometer to the correctness of speech and expression. More times than not, we see commoners afflicted with restrictions while freedom is enjoyed by those in the throes of power. This is where we begin to question the ‘freedom’ in our right to speak and express.

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