Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.
In a significant ruling, a three-judge bench of the Bombay high court has held that in India criticism of any religion is permissible under the fundamental right of freedom of speech, be it Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or any other religion, and a book cannot be banned for that reason alone. But the criticism must be bona fide or academic, said the court as it upheld a ban issued in 2007 by the Maharashtra government on a book titled Islam—A Concept of Political World Invasion by Muslims.
Aah, that first line sounds so nice, gives so much hope. And then the second one makes it meaningless. Why should only “bona fide or academic” criticism be allowed? Who decides if a particular critique is “bona fide or academic”? The judges there paid lip service to free speech—and in the very next sentence, added caveats that took the ‘free’ out of it.
It could be argued, of course, that the bench merely followed a precedent already set by the framers of our constitution. They too, in Article 19 (1) (a), paid lip service to free speech. And in article 19 (2), allowed restraints on it on grounds such as “public order” and “decency and morality” that are open to interpretation, and make it easy for those in power to stifle free expression. Such it goes.
Also read: Don’t Insult Pasta.
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