Citizens Have Right To Criticise Scrapping Of Article 370: Supreme Court

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court today upheld the right to dissent, saying every criticism is not an offence and if it were thought so, democracy would not survive. The police should be sensitised about freedom of speech granted by the Constitution, the court added, throwing out a case against a man who had made adverse comments on the scrapping of Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir.  

The Constitution of India, under Article 19(1)(a), guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Under the said guarantee, every citizen has the right to offer criticism of the action of abrogation of Article 370 or, for that matter, every decision of the State. He has the right to say he is unhappy with any decision of the State,’ the court said.

“Now is the time to educate our police machinery about the concept of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and the limits of reasonable restraint on them… They should be sensitized about the democratic values enshrined in our Constitution,” said the bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan.

A criminal case was filed against Javed Ahmed Hazam, a Kashmiri professor working at Maharashtra’s Kolhapur College for a WhatsApp status that called August 5 a “Black Day for Jammu and Kashmir” and celebrated Pakistan’s Independence Day on August 14. The court ordered that the case against him be scrapped.

The court said calling August 5 a “Black day” was an “expression of protest and pain”. Wishing people of Pakistan a happy Independence Day “is a goodwill gesture and cannot be said to create feelings of animosity, hostility, hatred or ill-will between different religious groups,” the judges added.

The test in such cases is “not the effect of the words on some weak-minded persons who see danger in every hostile approach, but the general effect of statements on reasonable persons who are significant in number,” the judges added.

Just because some individuals may develop hatred or ill will, it would not be sufficient to attract penalty for promoting enmity between groups, the court said. “Legal means should be considered a part of the right to live a dignified and meaningful life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution (which grants freedom of speech),” the judges said.

There was also a caveat – the opposition or disagreement, the court said, “must be within the four corners of the methods permitted in a democratic system”.


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