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An estimated 5-minute read

Why Freedom of expression has to be fundamentally restrictive for the successful working of a democracy in a Hinduist society

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By Naveen K. Jain
3rd year student of Jindal Global Law School

Democracy, is made of two Greek words "Demos"-which means People and, “Kratos" which means power. In simple understanding - "Rule by People".   In contemporary times, it is understood as vesting authority and power through majority and collective decision to some people to rule and to exercise their authority and power. The best form of democracy is one which is politically and socially equal and works on the principles of secularism. Right to speech and expression is guaranteed to Indian citizens under Article- 19-(1) (a) of Indian Constitution. Under this such a right, we have right to speech and expression until it violates-Public order, Decency and Morality.

Freedom of expression is fundamental for the successful working of a democracy so long as it does not disturb public order Decency and Morality. Freedom of expression is in among those of rights through which a progressive and positive ends can be achieved. One can voice one's opinion and could stand against certain things only if he has a backing of legal and constitutional mechanism.  

According to J.S. Mill- Liberty is based on the understanding of utility ‘in the largest sense grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. He takes the concept of liberty beyond the utilitarian doctrine of Bentham by holding the view that a proper conception of happiness includes freedom as individuality. As he said, If an opinion is suppressed as against the prevailing notion and the suppressed opinion is right, then humankind stands deprived of its benefit.

 Banning of A.K. Ramanujan's 300 Ramayanas, and Rohinton Mistry’s “Such a long Journey" cannot be considered as just one. The main reason behind banning A.K. ramanujan's 300 Ramayana was that his essay tried to delineate the fact that there are more than 300 versions of Ramayana. Then after, the ABVP started to protest against the course curricular of Delhi University which had the said essay as a compulsory topic on the basis that this essay hurt “religious sentiments of Hindus"

The story of ram katha extends to huge historical period. and there are huge differences in time when "Valmiki's version of Ramayana" and the Ramayana by other scholars such as" Kamba" was written.  A.K. Ramanujan never tried to disregard any of the version described in 300 Ramayana, he just tried explain that there are such version of Ramayana in more than 25 languages and even in Sanskrit language itself there are many versions and each describe and hold a different facts for the same story. For example in one Ramayana- Ram and Sita were described as siblings whereas in another - Sita was the Daughter of Ravan. Jain's version of Ramayana which was written by Vimalasuri describes that Ravan was killed by Laxman. In another version of Ramayana, Sita had refused to give agani-pariksha to Ram when she was asked.

       Historians argued in favour of the Essay saying that it tried to show as how rich diversity we Indian have in different parts of the country on Ram Katha. It shows rich and sophisticated diversity of Indian heritage. And from academic point of view, it does not restrict academic freedom but it gives more academic freedom to choose, deliberate and decide. 

When the issue was raised, and the department of History was vandalised by ABVP, a four member committee was set up to look into the matter and decide as whether or not 300 Ramayana be a part of course curriculum. By that time the matter had already reached to High-Court and H.C. directed the Delhi University to use their discretion on the matter. A four member committee, which was consisted of Scholars and faculty of History, gave a 3-1 verdict favouring 300 Ramayana should be a part of course curriculum. Ignoring the decision of the committee and giving no time to its members to read the essay, academic council decided to have a meeting to take a decision on it. And as expected, they all favoured that the essay should not be a part of course curriculum. This decision resulted in bringing outrage in public and collective disregard towards its members and DU as an institution.  And it was so saddening that it all happened when the exams were scheduled just a few days away.

Somewhat same happened in Mumbai, when Mumbai University had to withdraw Rohinton Mistry's book titled "Such a long journey" from its course curriculum due to a great and inevitable pressure by Shiv Sena. What was more ridiculous was the fact that they withdrew it when the exams were just a few weeks away and the term was about to end. It was the first time in the 153 years of history that such actions were taken. The vice chancellor of MU used its discretionary powers and acted through emergency provision which are given in Mumbai University’ act. His action brought ridicule on the face of MU’ academic excellence and long glorious years.

This action was taken, as the book contained some part where it was written "“What to do with such low-class people? No manners, no sense, nothing. And you know who is responsible for this attitude – that bastard Shiv Sena leader who worships Hitler and Mussolini."  The sad part of this was not that they withdrew it but they withdrew it owing inevitable pressure by "Shiv Seniks".

Our Constitution guarantees "freedom to speech and expression” and it can only be denied when it disturbs "Public order and peace". Our constitution guarantees freedom of expression and speech "Article-19(1) (a)  so that changes can be brought for public and social welfare without any fear, When Rohinton Mistry said wrote something against the Shiv Sena, it was completely his own opinion and the book could be withdrawn from the course curriculum if it really had disturbed and hurt  people’ sentiments. But ridiculous was the fact that, the action was taken through no judicious means, the process which was adopted for this was also unjust and it completely ridiculed University's reputation.

In both the cases, the method which was adopted was not a judicious one, and it was justified to criticise such actions. "300 Ramayana” does not harm any religious sentiments but it actually tries to promote the richness and diversity of our culture. A.K. Ramanujan did something which should have been appreciated and recognised by the of Hinduist class.

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