Wasn’t that nice! GoI agreed with G7 governments that freedom of expression, both offline and online, safeguards democracies. This is so much nicer than hearing, as we have had to all too frequently, that freedom of expression is, in fact, a threat to India’s integrity, sovereignty, security, territoriality, and many other things, not all of which end in ‘ity’. The thing is very simple, and can be explained to, say, police officers in one line – being a democracy means being able to speak your mind, or even tweet your mind. If you don’t agree, speak back, write back, tweet back. That’s what you do in a democracy. What you don’t do is … raiding offices, slapping sedition cases, arresting reporters and those questioning official policies.
The other thing about freedom of expression, which we are sure the G7 statement on open societies endorses, a statement that India signed, is that it is a right enjoyed by citizens, not a conditional privilege granted by the state. If you don’t like a newspaper editorial or a social media post and you happen to be part of the governing party, whether in Centre or in states, you are supposed to be cool about it. You don’t have to agree with everything the press and people say, but you are supposed to – especially – protect the right to free speech of those whom you disagree with.
So, if we have bureaucrats sit on judgment whether an online news portal’s story is a threat to national security or whether an OTT series is a threat to national ‘culture’, we weaken our democracy. If we threaten pensions of ex-security officers if they dare to share their valuable experiences, we weaken our democracy. Why? Because we weaken freedom of expression. And as G7 said and India agreed, freedom of expression safeguards democracies.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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