Dombari is an ethnic group of circus performers that perform acrobatics on the streets. These acts include risky somersaults, juggling, and walking on a tightrope. There is no safety net and these acts require sheer skills. Even kids belonging to this community are trained very young to perform for a living. The acts are, but ultimately make you contemplate.
Freedom of Speech is similar to the deft Dombari walking the tightrope. The edge between expression and offence is the proverbial tight rope. But, it is hazy!
Article 19 (1) a of the Constitution of India, Freedom of Speech and Expression guarantees every citizen the right to express their views, beliefs, opinions, and, ideas by verbal, written or other methods. However, The Government of India is authorized by the same Constitution to impose limitations or qualifiers because this right is not absolute. Restrictions as per Sections 292 to 294 of the Indian Penal Code are set in order to maintain law & order, diplomatic relations with other countries, and uphold morality and decency.
Freedom of Speech and Expression has been the subject of incessant conversation lately. Armed with social media and with a dash of ‘wokeness’, people practice freedom of expression as if they were buying candy. In my opinion, the concept of offence is subjective. Something as simple as expressing affection can be construed two ways—the expression of affection in French and Scandinavian cultures is freer while the British manner is more restrained. This can be attributed to the concept of ‘stiff-upper lip” — avoidance of any display of emotion (especially negative) and exercising great self-restraint. A British-born and raised might take offence at the open expression of affection.
“Are we living in times, where there can absolutely be no disagreement?” Is this democracy?
George Orwell wrote, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”
“Preaching to the Choir” does not warrant protection by law. The raison d’etre of this fundamental right is to promote societal growth on intellectual, ideological, physical, psychological, and moral grounds. Had disagreements not existed, we would have still believed in the archaic notion of the Earth being flat!.
Nevertheless, disagreement does not empower anyone to make hate speech. We have been witness to countless occurrences fueled by hate speech, both national and global; that have wrecked democracy, peace, and harmony.
In conclusion, the Freedom of Speech and Expression is a balancing act, just like the Dombari. Taking inspiration from this acrobatic nomad, we must pave the way —- for varying opinions to harmoniously exist, creating an environment in which one can fearlessly say, “I respectfully disagree!”