15 Oct 2017 4:53 AM GMT
Speakers at a panel discussion in New Delhi on Saturday evening expressed concern at the growing threats to free speech from non-State actors, and the tendency of the Government to abdicate its responsibility to protect it.The discussion, held to mark the launch of the book, “Republic of Rhetoric” authored by lawyer and author, Abhinav Chandrachud, was moderated by senior...
Speakers at a panel discussion in New Delhi on Saturday evening expressed concern at the growing threats to free speech from non-State actors, and the tendency of the Government to abdicate its responsibility to protect it.
The discussion, held to mark the launch of the book, “Republic of Rhetoric” authored by lawyer and author, Abhinav Chandrachud, was moderated by senior advocate, Akhil Sibal. The author was in conversation with eminent jurist, Soli J. Sorabjee and well-known television anchor, Sonia Singh. Judges of the Supreme Court, including author’s father, Justice D.Y.Chandrachud, Justice Madan B.Lokur, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and former Judge, Justice Anil R. Dave were present in the audience.
Akhil Sibal, speaking from his own experience of defending artist M.F.Hussain from non-State actors, recalled that he could never return to India before his death, because of the threats from non-State actors.
Akhil Sibal observed that it is the cultural norms, and not the Constitution, which determine the contours of free speech.
The panelists took specific topics discussed in the book, for discussion. On sedition, the panelists expressed concern that despite the Supreme Court’s order clarifying that only incitement to violence and public disorder could be construed as sedition, many persons continue to be harassed under the provision, merely for expressing dissent with the powers-that-be or for lampooning the leaders on the social media.
Abhinav Chandrachud emphasized that with the digital age, social situation has changed remarkably, and the doctrine of prior restraint which could have been relevant earlier, has now lost its relevance. He asked how could the Censor Board object to kissing scenes on the films, when today’s generation has easy access to pornography on the internet. What’s wrong with sex arousal, he asked.
Sonia Singh, however, differed from the author saying some restrictions are necessary in view of the general atmosphere of sexual crimes against women in the society. Akhil Sibal added that the author too shared the concern for safeguards to protect children, even while defending free speech.
Akhil Sibal brought to the notice of the audience that the author is critical of the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra for his order making it mandatory for everyone in cinema halls to stand and show respect for national anthem, before the start of a movie. The author has referred to the remark of the U.S.Supreme Court Judge, Justice Robert H.Jackson, that compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard. “Justice Misra’s order deprives Indians of a similar right to protest”, the author has written in his book, asking why the Court directed only cinema halls to play the anthem, and not sports stadia before a cricket game, or theatres before a play.
Asked for his opinion, Soli Sorabjee agreed with the panelists, that the order is difficult to implement.
Sonia Singh observed that because of the climate of intolerance, we are witnessing a frightening time. “Opposition parties’ press conferences are blacked out in news rooms”, she said referring to how the media covered the recent expose by The Wire of the BJP President, Amit Shah’s son, Jay Shah’s alleged business deals suggesting disproportionate income generation, after the BJP came to power at the Centre.
Abhinav Chandrachud, in a lighter vein, said that he would have titled his book, as “Rhetoric of Republic”, if he had to choose the title, after Arnab Goswami named his new television channel.