[Book Review] Republic of Rhetoric: Free Speech and the Constitution of India


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You can buy the book on Flipkart from here.

Exploring socio-political as well as the legal history of India, from the British period to the present, this book brings to light the idea of ‘free speech’ or what is popularly known as the freedom expression in the country. Analysing the present law relating to obscenity and free speech, this book will evaluate whether the enactment of the Constitution made a significant difference to the right to free speech in India. Deeply researched, authoritative and anecdotal, this book offers arguments that have not been substantially advanced before.

India has a colonial legacy (the use of the word legacy is deliberate, instead of history). The colonial legacy is not the British but also imported castes in India by the Brahmins, which are still having so much force in India that it dominates everything. Indian mind is inhabited by the ideas of the archaic past having no relevance to the present times. Interestingly, the laws which dictated Indian social, political, and economic life started changing when the British came to India. The laws which followed Dicey’s dictum of “rule of law”, instead of the rule of religions or any other force. Thankfully, India was ruled by the British in which the Parliament was the supreme lawmaking body and hence similar patterns of governance were reflected in Indian governance, though Indians did not have right to have representative government for a long time.

However, the laws and codes started emerging under the British and they still govern the criminal and civil justice system in India. Though the constitution has become the highest law of the land in India in 1950 when India become truly independent of the British severing all the ties. Many laws remained in force as they dictated various aspects of the civil life of the people of India. They did not expire all of a sudden or went revisions according to the changed circumstances. In this context, Chandrachud’s book “Rhetoric of Republic” is an interesting read. He covers the vast legal past that India had before the advent of the constitution of India and how sadly the colonial laws, particularly, related to sedition and free speech, were forced to use even when the British were gone.

The law of sedition in the British is now a history, but in contemporary India, it is still a part of India’s archaic system of controlling and gagging the voices of the people. That is why this book is relevant. The Government can slap any citizen with the sedition and it is not bailable “offence”: making it impossible for the arrested to redress the injustice. Therefore the discussion on the “free speech and free press” is important in the contemporary India. It is absolutely important to study the Article 19 that gives the right to free speech to the citizens of India and how it is curtailed by the reasonable restrictions such as public order, morality, friendly relations with foreign power, and so on. It is the time the Government completely removes such a law that inhibits people from criticizing the government for its failures, of course, this freedom can be reasonably restricted, but the balance must tilt in favour of freedom than restrictions.

You can buy the book on Flipkart from here.

Author – Mangesh Dahiwale, Human Rights Activist

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