3 Apr, 2016
Does the state acknowledge such autonomy among its citizens and repose faith in them to make their own choices regarding speeches, writings, works of art, films and plays? Obviously not, given the number of “reasonable restrictions” that are placed on free speech in India, many of them reflecting an official philosophy that believes that the government alone can, or at least has a duty to, decide what is ‘good’ for the people. Hence, the many restrictions on expression based on, among other grounds, public order, decency and morality. Gautam Bhatia would classify such curbs as instances of ‘legal paternalism’ or ‘legal moralism’. For, according to this author of a lucid and detailed examination of the law of free speech in India (Offend, Shock, or Disturb: Free Speech under the Indian Constitution, Oxford University Press, Rs.750), Indian freespeech jurisprudence has two broad approaches — ‘moral-paternalistic’, a view that sees people as inherently corruptible and prone to violence and who cannot be trusted with too much freedom, and ‘liberal-autonomous’, an approach that sees people as individuals capable of making decisions on their own lives and one that allows only limited restrictions on what they can speak, see or hear.