November 27, 2021 5:08:51 am
THE DELHI High Court on Friday said that a democracy governed by the rule of law would be “in serious peril” if “creative voices were stifled or intellectual freedom was suppressed or suffocated”. Quoting French writer Voltaire in its order, the court said: “While I wholly disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
“The freedoms guaranteed by Article 19 are not liable to be freely expressed only if they fall in line with a majoritarian view. The right to dissent or to have and express a contrarian view with respect to current affairs or historical events are the essence of a vibrant democracy,” said Justice Yashwant Varma in the order, dismissing a petition seeking a ban on Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s latest book, Sunrise over Ayodhya, in which he equates Hindutva groups with terror outfits like Islamic State and Boko Haram.
The court said the fundamental and precious right guaranteed by the Constitution can neither be restricted nor denied merely on the perceived apprehension of the view being unpalatable or disagreeable to some. “The freedom to freely express ideas and opinions cannot be permitted to be overshadowed by the ominous cloud of being non-conformist,” said Justice Varma.
The HC said the freedom of speech and expression as conferred and guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution must be protected by courts unless it is “conclusively established that the work would fall foul of the constitutional or statutory restrictions on the exercise of that right which apply.”
On Thursday, during the hearing of the petition, the court had said: “Nobody had asked them to read it. They could have shut their eyes and not read it”, after the petitioner’s counsel claimed that the book had led to “communal incidents” at four places. “What can we do if people are feeling so sensitive,” Justice Varma had said.
Justice Varma, in the order, noted that the allegations levelled and apprehensions expressed are not based on a holistic reading of the work authored by Khurshid. “In fact, the book in its entirety was not even placed before the court for its consideration,” the court said.
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