Freedom of expression in India

Freedom of expression in India

Indians belive in value of Satyam Shivam Sundaram "Truth is God and God is beautiful" [ Prayer on you tube] .Satyameva Jayate is India’s national motto. The English translation of the Sanskrit Satyameva Jayate is “Truth Alone Prevails.” Indians In anciaent india learning 64 forms of atrs(Skills) was supposed to be most ideal,and these arts used to give complete freedom of expression to the artists.Ancient Indian scriptures and legends are full of instance of curse from commoners to the king.

Barring few exceptions learned criticism was always welcome in all sphere of knowledge with a very high tolerance level towards opposite view; and while performing duty(Dharma) comes always first,and one is supposed to get respect by following his duty even while the person may be following opposite view compared to you.

Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh has been quoted saying "We remain committed to economic reform and liberalisation. In ancient India, a monarch was regarded as a good king if he did not interfere too much in the life of the people. That has been our guiding principle as as well," the Press Trust of India(PTI) quoted Manmohan as saying to delegates of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-City India Global Forum.

He said his government was also committed to an environment of freedom "in which creativity and enterprise of our people can find its full and free expression". []

"I want freedom for the full expression of my personality.Mahatma Gandhi"

The Constitution of India contains the right to freedom, given in articles 19, 20, 21 and 22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights that were considered vital by the framers of the constitution. The right to freedom in Article 19 guarantees the Freedom of speech and expression, as one of following six freedoms: [.]


According to many scholars, India is the most culturally, linguistically and genetically diverse geographical entity after the African continent [ [ India, a Country Study] "United States Library of Congress, Note on Ethnic groups"] . India's democratic republic is premised on a national belief in pluralism, not the standard nationalist invocation of a shared history, a single language and an assimilationist culture. [" [ India's model democracy] ," BBC.] State boundaries in India are mostly drawn on linguistic lines. [ [ States Reorganization Act 1956] ] In addition India is also one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world, with significant Hindu (80.5%) , Muslim (13.4%), Christian (2.3%), Sikh (2.1%), Buddhist, Bahai, Ahmadi, Jain and Parsi populations. [ [ Indian Census] ] Cities like Mumbai in Maharashtra display high levels of multilingualism and multiculturalism, spurred by political integration after independence and migration from rural areas.

Congress Resolution and Outcome of Indian Freedom Movement

Where the mind is without fear

Since era of India freedom struggle a famous poem by Rabindranath Tagore about freedom of expression remained Indian Ideal to look towards freedom of expression.

:Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high:Where knowledge is free:Where the world has not been broken up into fragments:By narrow domestic walls:Where words come out from the depth of truth:Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way:Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit:Where the mind is led forward by thee:Into ever-widening thought and action:Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. ::

Constitutional law

Main Article Fundamental Rights in India

In a landmark judgment of the case "Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India", [AIR 1978 SC 597.] the Supreme Court held that the freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitation and it carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but abroad also.

The constitution of India does not specifically mention the freedom of press. Freedom of press is implied from the Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Thus the press is subject to the restrictions that are provide under the Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Before Independence, there was no constitutional or statutory provision to protect the freedom of press. As observed by the "Privy Council in Channing Arnold v. King Emperor": [AIR 1914 PC 116, 117.] “The freedom of the journalist is an ordinary part of the freedom of the subject and to whatever length, the subject in general may go, so also may the journalist, but apart from statute law his privilege is no other and no higher. The range of his assertions, his criticisms or his comments is as wide as, and no wider than that of any other subject”. The Preamble of the Indian Constitution ensures to all its citizens the liberty of expression. Freedom of the press has been included as part of freedom of speech and expression under the Article 19 of the UDHR. The heart of the Article 19 says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

In "Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras", [ [ Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras] ,AIR 1950 SC 124.] Patanjali Shastri, CJ observed: “ Freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.”

The Supreme Court observed in "Union of India v. Assn. for Democratic Reforms": [ [ Union of India v. Assn. for Democratic Reforms] ,(2002) 5 SCC 294.] “Onesided information, disinformation, misinformation and non information, all equally create an uninformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. Freedom of speech and expression includes right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions”.

In "Indian Express v. Union of India", [ [ Indian Express v. Union of India] ,(1985) 1 SCC 641.] it has been held that the press plays a very significant role in the democratic machinery. The courts have duty to uphold the freedom of press and invalidate all laws and administrative actions that abridge that freedom. Freedom of press has three essential elements. They are:1.freedom of access to all sources of information, [ [ M.S.M. Sharma v. Sri Krishna Sinha] , AIR 1959 SC 395.] 2. freedom of publication, and3. freedom of circulation. [ [ Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras] ,AIR 1950 SC 124.]

In India, the press has not been able to exercise its freedom to express the popular views. In "Sakal Papers Ltd. v. Union of India", [ [ Sakal Papers Ltd. v. Union of India] ,AIR 1962 SC 305.] the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960, which fixed the number of pages and size which a newspaper could publish at a price was held to be violative of freedom of press and not a reasonable restriction under the Article 19(2). Similarly, in "Bennet Coleman and Co. v. Union of India", [AIR 1973 SC 106; (1972) 2 SCC 788.] the validity of the Newsprint Control Order, which fixed the maximum number of pages, was struck down by the Court holding it to be violative of provision of Article 19(1)(a) and not to be reasonable restriction under Article 19(2). The Court struck down the plea of the Government that it would help small newspapers to grow.

In "Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras" (1950 SCR 594, 607; AIR 1950 SC 124), entry and circulation of the English journal “Cross Road”, printed and published in Bombay, was banned by the Government of Madras. The same was held to be violative of the freedom ofspeech and expression, as “without liberty of circulation, publication would be of little value”. In "Prabha Dutt v. Union of India" ((1982) 1 SCC 1; AIR 1982 SC 6.), the Supreme Court directed the Superintendent of Tihar Jail to allow representatives of a few newspapers to interview Ranga and Billa, the death sentence convicts, as they wanted to be interviewed.

There are instances when the freedom of press has been suppressed by the legislature. The authority of the government, in such circumstances, has been under the scanner of judiciary. In the case of "Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi" (AIR 1950 SC 129), the validity of censorship previous to the publication of an English Weekly of Delhi, the Organiser was questioned. The court struck down the Section 7 of the East Punjab Safety Act, 1949, which directed the editor and publisher of a newspaper “to submit for scrutiny, in duplicate, before the publication, till the further orders , all communal matters all the matters and news and views about Pakistan, including photographs, and cartoons”, on the ground that it was a restriction on the liberty of the press. Similarly, prohibiting newspaper from publishing its own views or views of correspondents about a topic has been held to be a serious encroachment on the freedom of speech and expression. [ [ Virendra v. State of Punjab] , AIR 1957 SC 896; "Express Newspapers v. Union of India", AIR 1958SC 578, 617.]

Reasonable restrictions

The freedom of speech and of the press does not confer an absolute right to express without any responsibility. Lord Denning, in his famous book Road to Justice, observed that press is the watchdog to see that every trial is conducted fairly, openly and above board, but the watchdog may sometimes break loose and has to be punished for misbehaviour. [See Dr. Mahendra Tiwari “Freedom of press in India : Constitutional Perspectives” available on internet.] With the same token Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian constitution enables the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on free speech under following heads:
* I. security of the State,
* II. friendly relations with foreign States,
* III. public order,
* IV. decency and morality,
* V. contempt of court,
* VI. defamation,
* VII. incitement to an offence, and
* VIII. sovereignty and integrity of India.

Reasonable restrictions on these grounds can be imposed only by a duly enacted law and not by executive action. [ [ Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala] , (1986) 3 SCC 615.]

Security of the State: Reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the freedom of speech and expression, in the interest of the security of the State. All the utterances intended to endanger the security of the State by crimes of violence intended to overthrow the government, waging of war and rebellion against the government, external aggression or war, etc., may be restrained in the interest of the security of the State. [ [ State of Bihar v. Shailabala Devi] , AIR 1952 SC 329.] It does not refer to the ordinary breaches of public orderwhich do not involve any danger to the State. [ [ Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras] ,AIR 1950 SC 124.]

Friendly relations with foreign States: This ground was added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act of 1951. The State can impose reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression, if it tends to jeopardise the friendly relations of India with other State.

Public order: This ground was added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 in order to meet the situation arising from the Supreme Court’s decision in Romesh Thapar,s case (AIR 1950 SC 124). The expression ‘public order’ connotes the sense of public peace, safety and tranquillity.

In "Kishori Mohan v. State of West Bengal", the Supreme Court explained the differences between three concepts: law and order, public order, security of State. Anything that disturbs public peace or publictranquillity disturbs public order. ["Om Prakash v. Emperor", AIR 1948 Nag, 199.] But mere criticism of the government does not necessarily disturb public order. ["Raj Bahadur Gond v. State of Hyderabad", AIR 1953 Hyd 277.] A law punishing the utterances deliberately tending to hurt the religious feelings of any class has been held to be valid as it is a reasonable restriction aimed to maintaining the public order. ["Ramjilal Modi v. State of Uttar Pradesh", AIR 1957 SC 622; 1957 SCR 860.]

It is also necessary that there must be a reasonable nexus between the restriction imposed and the achievement of public order. In "Superintendent, Central Prison v. Ram Manohar Lohiya" (AIR 1960 SC 633), the Court held the Section 3 of U.P. Special Powers Act, 1932, which punished a person if he incited a single person not to pay or defer the payment of Government dues, as there was no reasonable nexus between the speech and public order. Similarly, the court upheld the validity of the provision empowering a Magistrate to issue directions to protect the public order or tranquillity. [ [ Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra] , AIR 1961 SC 884.]

Decency and morality: The word ‘obscenity’ is identical with the word ‘indecency’ of the Indian Constitution. In an English case of "R. v. Hicklin", [LR 3 QB 360.] the test was laid down according to which it is seen ‘whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscene tend to deprave and corrupt the minds which are open to such immoral influences’. This test was upheld by the Supreme Court in Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra (AIR 1965 SC 881). In this case the Court upheld the conviction of a book seller who was prosecuted under Section 292 , I.P.C., for selling and keeping the book The Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The standard of morality varies from time to time and from place to place.

Contempt of court: The constitutional right to freedom of speech would not allow a person to contempt the courts. The expression Contempt of Court has been defined Section 2 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The term contempt of court refers to civil contempt or criminal contempt under the Act. But judges do not have any general immunity from criticism of their judicial conduct, provided that it is made in good faith and is genuine criticism, and not any attempt to impair the administration of justice. In "In re Arundhati Roy" ((2002) 3 SCC 343), the Supreme Court of India followed the view taken in the American Supreme Court (Frankfurter, J.) in "Pennekamp v. Florida" (328 US 331 : 90 L Ed 1295 (1946)) in which the United States Supreme Court observed: “If men, including judges and journalists, were angels, there would be no problem of contempt of court. Angelic judges would be undisturbed by extraneous influences and angelic journalists would not seek to influence them. The power to punish for contempt, as a means of safeguarding judges in deciding on behalf of the community as impartially as is given to the lot of men to decide, is not a privilege accorded to judges. The power to punish for contempt of court is a safeguard not for judges as persons but for the function which they exercise”. In "E.M.S. Namboodripad v. T.N. Nambiar" ((1970) 2 SCC 325; AIR 1970 SC 2015), the Supreme Court confirmed the decision of the High Court, holding Mr. Namboodripad guilty of contempt of court. In "M.R. Parashar v. Farooq Abdullah" ((1984) 2 SCC 343; AIR 1984 SC 615.), contempt proceedings were initiated against the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. But the Court dismissed the petition for want of proof.

Defamation: The clause (2) of Article 19 prevents any person from making any statement that injures the reputation of another. With the same view, defamation has been criminalised in India by inserting it into Section 499 of the I.P.C.

Incitement to an offence: This ground was also added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. The Constitution also prohibits a person from making any statement that incites people to commit offence.

Sovereignty and integrity of India: This ground was also added subsequently by the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1963. This is aimed to prohibit anyone from making the statements that challenge the integrity and sovereignty of India.

Freedom of artistic expression in India

Practical Constraints and Curtailments

*Freedom of speech and expression, which enable an individual to participate in public activities. The phrase, "freedom of press" has not been used in Article 19, but freedom of expression includes freedom of press. Reasonable restrictions can be imposed in the interest of public order, security of State, decency or morality.

According to the estimates of Reporters Without Borders, India ranks 120th worldwide in press freedom index (press freedom index for India is 39.33 for 2007). [ [ Worldwide press freedom index 2007] Reporters Without Borders] The Indian Constitution, while not mentioning the word "press", provides for "the right to freedom of speech and expression" (Article 19(1) a). However this right is subject to restrictions under subclause (2), whereby this freedom can be restricted for reasons of "sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence". Laws such as the Official Secrets Act and Prevention of Terrorism Actcite web
title = The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002
url =
] (PoTA) have been used to limit press freedom. Under PoTA, person could be detained for up to six months for being in contact with a terrorist or terrorist group. PoTA was repealed in 2006, but the Official Secrets Act 1923 continues.

For the first half-century of independence, media control by the state was the major constraint on press freedom.
Indira Gandhi famously stated in 1975 that All India Radio is "a Government organ, it is going to remain a Government organ..." [cite journal
url =
title = Freedom of the Press
journal = PUCL Bulletin,
publisher = People's Union for Civil Liberties
date = July 1982
] With the liberalization starting in the 1990s, private control of media has burgeoned, leading to increasing independence and greater scrutiny of government. Organizations like Tehelka and NDTV have been particularly influential, e.g. in bringing about the resignation of powerful Haryana minister Venod Sharma. In addition, laws like Prasar Bharati act passed in recent years contribute significantly to reducing the control of the press by the government

Cultural and Religious

ancient history

medival history

post indipendance era untill 1974

1974 to 2000

2000 to till now

From Government

Freedom Struggle

ancient history

medival history

post indipendance era untill 1974

1974 to 2000

2000 to till now


According to the English Law, Sedition embraces all the practices whether by word or writing which are calculated to disturb the tranquillity of the State and lead an ignorant person to subvert the Government. [R. v. Salliven, (1868) 11 Cox Cases 55.] Mere criticism of the government does not amount to sedition, if it was not calculated to undermine the respect for the government in such a way so as to make people cease to obey it and so that only anarchy follows. [Niharendra v. Emperor, AIR 1942 FC 22] Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines the offence of sedition as follows: “Sedition.Whoeverby words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine”. But Explanation 3 says “Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section”. [Section 124A of the Code] In Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar (AIR 1952 SC 955), the court upheld the constitutional validity of the Section 124A of I.P.C and also upheld the view taken in Niharendu’s case.


* Callamard, Dr. Agnes, Freedom of Speech and Offence: Why Blasphemy Laws Are not the Appropriate Response, (18th June 2006), (as a pdf)
* Cohen, Henry, C.R.S. Report for Congress: Freedom of Speech and Press: Exceptions to the First Amendment, (27th August 2003), ( as a pdf ).
* Liang, Lawrence, Reasonable Restrictions and Unreasonable Speech, (2004), ( as a pdf ).
* Pandey, J. N., Constitutional Law of India, 42nd ed. (2005), Central Law Agency, Allahabad.
* Singh, M. P., Constitution of India, 10th ed. (2001), Eastern Book Co., Lko.
* Tiwari, Dr. Mahendra, Freedom of press in India: Constitutional Perspectives, (2006),


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