Supreme Court: Every citizen has right to criticise decision of state [8.3.2024]

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the right to dissent, stating that every criticism is not an offence, and if it were, democracy would not survive. The court added that the police should be sensitised about the freedom of speech granted by the Constitution. It dismissed 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 sensitised about the democratic values enshrined in our Constitution," said the bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan.

A criminal prosecution was launched against Javed Ahmed Hazam, a Kashmiri professor at Maharashtra's Kolhapur College, over a WhatsApp status declaring August 5 a "Black Day for Jammu and Kashmir" and celebrating Pakistan's Independence Day on August 14. The judge ruled that the charges against him should be dropped.

Calling August 5 a "black day" was deemed an "expression of protest and pain" by the court. Wishing Pakistani people 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 justices said.

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.

The court stated that simply because some people develop hatred or ill will against others, it is insufficient to justify a penalty for encouraging enmity among groups. "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 court's ruling concluded.

08 Mar 2024