“In our country, those who help save the homes, lands and livelihoods of the poorest, those who speak not just of responsibilities but of rights, those who raise their voices against corruption, they are safeguarding the same Constitution. But now, those who demand rights are being locked away.” Naseeruddin Shah, Actor
Since the United Nations is celebrating World Press Freedom Day today, we wanted to look at what ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of press’ means to each one of us here in India. To start at the beginning, freedom of speech holds a special place in the hearts of Indian citizens because we were denied this right for 200 years and got it back in 1947. The importance of freedom of speech and expression can be easily highlighted by the fact that the preamble of constitution ensures that all citizens possess the right to liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.
On the one hand, the right to freedom of speech and expression in India is absolute in Article 19 but, on the other hand, we see that the government and its policies are allowed to limit this freedom of expression according to the constitution “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State.”
The scariest and the most prevalent form of hindering this right to freedom of speech is censorship and its companion: physical intimidation. Not only has Indian media started catering to the political party agenda, openly and widely, even through their presence of various social media platforms, they have also turned journalists into potential targets of defamation, heresy, physical violence or bankruptcy.
Because of the widespread censorship leaking into the media, the voices of women are doubly invisible. The voices of women in our country are silenced at home and then they are silenced in developing spaces of media and technology as well. This double censorship allows no space for complaints of sexual harassment as seen in the outburst of the #MeToo movement, unsafe work environments, the fear of not-being taken seriously because journalism has always been a male-dominated profession and to a see a female on the field was still bizarre for the general Indian audience, mental and physical health care management plans that led to the widespread period-leave debate and whether it was anti-feminist to ask for leave, even physical attacks on the bodies of female journalists and media reporters due to their reportage. May 2017 saw the culmination of this discrimination and inequality in the form of the shock wave that spread all over the country after the murder of senior journalist and critical reporter of the Hindu Right, Gauri Lankesh, by a gunman because her hate speech was unequivocally linked to hate speech.
Freedom of the Press not only entails bolstering the fourth pillar of the Indian democracy by providing it an enabling environment but also making the Press more gender inclusive so that diverse voices and issues are covered. Independent Press is the internal requirement for good journalism and giving it a safe environment to thrive and inform the citizen is an external requirement that the State needs to provide to the Press. The citizens, as is always the case, have to be watchdogs to ensure that we get the Press and the State, we deserve.