Republic Day honours the date on which the Constitution of India came into effect on 26 January 1950 replacing the Government of India Act (1935) as the governing document of India. It is the same constitution which embeds an article 19 (1) (a) in its nascent form or with some shades of grey?
Surprisingly, the Constitution of India does not mention freedom of the Press specifically in the Chapter on Fundamental Rights. Dr. Ambedkar however clarified later that it was not necessary to stipulate it specifically as it is implicit in the guarantees of Freedom of Speech and Expression in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. Despite the constitutional guarantee, press in India has been inhibited by barriers caused by religious, social, linguistic differences and government restrictions off and on throughout its 64 years of existence.
It might sound fatuous and gibberish to some people, but the real curtailment to press has dogged the Kashmir valley over the years. Nevertheless, freedom of expression is essential for the political liberty and proper functioning of democracy but in reality article 19 (1) (a) has lost its meaning and significance over the years.
After independence, freedom of expression has been transgressed by those in power for their own self interests. And in recent years, there has been marked increase in the number of attacks on journalists by police and unidentified gunmen, operating at the behest of state or local officials or politicians. Further, many states and local governments in India have hampered the genuine flow of information by curtailing the freedom of expression through detentions on mere suspicion. The best example is Kashmir, where due to government restrictions press is often unable to record events which are of great significance for the future generations.
The restriction on press to cover even Republic Day function and earlier to that militant funerals has significantly shrunk the scope of of free press in Kashmir.
The World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters without Borders mentions that journalists were increasingly targets of online smear campaigns and threats while Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government. It is high time the government reassures journalists and comes out with a legislation providing foolproof protection to journalists.
Speech is innate to all human beings and a precious gift from God to mankind, which a human being acquires at birth. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organizations. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers. Human beings convey their thoughts by sentiments or expressions, right of expression, therefore, is their basic human right.
Tawfeeq Irshad Mir
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