Part-F: SC Judgments on Right to Criticize & Right to Silence under Freedom of Speech (Art.19)

Part-F: SC Judgments on Right to Criticize & Right to Silence under Freedom of Speech (Art.19)

Dear readers, this article & others (Parts: A to E) on “Freedom of Speech (Art. 19)” & related 17 Supreme Court judgments on Right to Criticize, Right not to Speak or Right to Silence, Right to Expression Beyond National Boundaries, Right to freedom of opinion and expression, are informative with facts and will educate the general public, students, teachers, and help competitive aspirants in prepartion of IAS, PCS, CLAT, AIBE, UGC/NET, and other exams.

Freedom of speech and expression is a natural and legal right of an individual to express one’s opinions, ideas & information freely and receive the same from others, without interference, through any means, media, and mode”.   __ Dr. Md. Usmangani Ansari  

The Constitution is not an instrument for the Government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the Government”. Patrick Henry (1736-1799)


Read other related articles:

  1. PIL Part-1: What is Public Interest Litigation (PIL)? 
  2. PIL Part-2:  PIL Filer, Importance, Weakness, Development Phases, and Growth of PIL in India_____________________________________________________________________

SC Judgments on Right to Criticize under Freedom of Speech (At.19)

The Supreme Court and High Courts with the help of their judicial creativity, wisdom, and craftsmanship have widened the scope of freedom of speech and expression by adding many elements through judgments in the right to criticize and right to silence fields:

Right to Criticize

The question of civil liberty arises not when the people of a country obediently carry out the orders of the government. It arises only when there is a conflict between the people and the executive authority. The idea of civil liberty is to have the right to oppose the government. On the other hand, for a public man, the press is an essential tool that formulates public opinion and howsoever he may be irritated at times with the press, he must ultimately be inclined to love the press.

14. SC Judgment on S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989)

This is the case25 of Mr. Rangarajan, a Tamil film producer in Chennai (then Madras), was fighting for his right to release “Ore Oru Gramathile,” (“In a Single Village”) a movie on reverse discrimination that criticized the caste-based reservation policy in Tamil Nadu’s educational institutions. It was very hard-hitting, because it criticized the Supreme Court’s upholding of reservation, and it criticized politicians who were using reservation as a method of stirring up passions. Members of the Dr. Ambedkar People’s Movement and the Republican Party of India had already embarked upon protests, and had warned that demonstrators “would not hesitate to damage the cinema.” In response, the Tamil Nadu government had stopped the film’s release, fearing “very serious” law and order problems across the state due to many false claims in the film, such as:

(i) Education is not a good,
(ii) Ambedkar did not work for equality, and
(iii) Criticism of reservations and praise of colonial rule.

A Division Bench of the Madras High Court revoked the U-Certificate (U i.e. unrestricted or “suitable for all ages”) granted to this Tamil film.
In the appeal, the Supreme Court held that everyone has a fundamental right to form his opinion on any issues of general concern. Open criticism of government policies and operations is not a ground for restricting expression. Intolerance is as dangerous to democracy as to the person himself. In a democracy, everyone doesn’t need to sing the same song. As a result, the Supreme Court allowed appeals, reverse the judgment of the Madras High Court, and dismiss the writ petitions of the respondents.

The same was the case in the suspension of screening of the Hindi film ‘Aarakshan’ directed by Prakash Jha, which also deals with issues of caste and reservation, by the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Andhra Pradesh in 2011. In this case, the Supreme Court repeated its above verdict and revoked the suspension of screening of the film.

The appeals in question concern two separate incidents of criticism of government machinery.

The first instance concerned an academic publication criticizing the Life Insurance Corporation of India’s (LIC)26 schemes. The magazine run by LIC published a reply to this research paper but refused to publish the rejoinder written by the author of the paper.

The second instance concerned a “documentary film on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy”, a case concerning the leak of lethal gases and the liability of Union Carbide for the deaths so caused. This film won a national award. During the presentation of the award, the Central Information Commissioner stated that it would be screened on Doordarshan channel as part of a series on award-winning short films. However, Doordarshan refused to broadcast.

LIC and Doordarshan are State-controlled entities and therefore, Fundamental Rights were considered to be enforceable against them in separate writ petitions before High Courts. The appeal from both cases was combined to decide on a common question of law.

The Supreme Court of India held that the right to respond to objections to one’s position was an integral part of right to freedom of expression. Both appeals in the case refer to separate instances of when a state-controlled entity refused to publish or broadcast work that criticized the government. The Court reasoned that government-controlled means of publication have a greater burden to recognize an individual’s right to defend themselves and if a state censors content, then it is obligated to provide reasons valid in law.

SC Judgment on Right to Expression Beyond National Boundaries

The right to expression transcends national boundaries. The revolution in communications and electronic media has broken down transnational barriers. It has made possible the transmission of information to any part of the world in a matter of seconds. It is possible via internet and phone.

Everyone has a right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

16. SC Judgment on Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India Case (1978)

In this case27, the Supreme Court considered whether Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution was confined to Indian territory and held that the freedom of speech and expression is not confined to national boundaries.
So electronic media also has the right to expression beyond national boundaries under Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution.

SC Judgment on Right not to Speak or Right to Silence

17. SC Judgment on Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala Case (1986)

In the case of the National Anthem28, three students were expelled from the school for refusal to sing the national anthem. However, the children stood up in respect when the national anthem was playing. The validity of the expulsion of the students was challenged before the Kerala High Court and they upheld the expulsion of the students on the ground that it was their fundamental duty to sing the national anthem. However, on an appeal being filed against the order of the Kerala High Court before the Supreme Court, it was held by the Supreme Court that the students did not commit any offense under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. Also, there was no law under which their fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a) could be curtailed. 

Copyright © Writer (Dr. Md. Usmangani Ansari)



  1. S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram 1989 SCR (2) 204, 1989 SCC (2) 574
  2. LIC of India v. Prof. Manubhai D. Shah 1993 AIR 171, 1992 SCR (3) 595
  3. Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
  4. Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala 1986 3 SC 615

Other References

This Post Has 7 Comments

Comments are closed.