Freedom of Speech

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Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is arguably the most precious gift of democracy. Democracy nurtures freedom of speech of its citizens. Citizens, in turn, safeguard democracy by voicing their protest against each and every violation of democratic rights of people. Evolution of democracy is nothing but a history of the extension of the right of freedom of speech from the limited group of privileged citizens to the universal right of every citizen granted by democratic regimes of the world. It should not be forgotten that the slaves had no franchise and freedom of speech till the 19th century and women got franchise and democratic rights only in the twentieth century in many democratic countries including Great Britain. Extent of freedom of speech can very well be considered the index of true spirit of democracy in a country.

One wonders as to what would have been the course of history of many countries in the world, had freedom of speech been completely denied to their inhabitants. One celebrated instance of freedom of speech and its historical outcome is forcefully described by Shakespeare in his drama "Julius Caesar". After the murder of Julius Caesar, some leading lights of Rome assembled at a place to offer justification for assassination of Caesar. Caesar, according to them, had become a threat to the freedom of Romans.

Antony, a friend of Caesar begs for one opportunity to go to the stage and pay his tribute to the dead Caesar. Once he gets the permission to speak, he makes the fullest use of his freedom of speech and explains to the audience how Caesar had undergone hardships to serve the people. Bit by bit, he builds up a highly sympathetic opinion among the crowd of listeners and they are converted from being haters of Caesar to lovers of Caesar. Not only that, most of the Romans thereafter started hating Brutus for his dastardly act of killing Caesar. Antony, through the clever exercise of his freedom of speech is able to turn the table on the conspirators and mobilise pro- Caesar forces to defeat Brutus and his co-conspirators.

History of civilisation is the history of conscientious objectors. Martin Luther, through his inflammatory speeches challenged the authority of Pope and ushered in Reformation in Christianity at the end of middle Ages. Protestantism gained growing number of adherents on accounts of its enlightened and liberal principles which ruled out the necessity of mediators between man and God. Not only the more progressive countries of Europe adopted Protestantism, the new world of North American States was dominated by the free spirits who lauded free enquiry and speech and went on to establish a democracy where rights of man were given constitutional protection.

A fair and just social system is unimaginable without the guarantee of freedom of speech to all members of the society. Interests of citizens are bound to clash sometime or the other. Unless the aggrieved has freedom to express his grievance and complain to the law enforcing agencies, he cannot protect his rights and safeguard his interests. Freedom of speech is therefore enshrined in the constitutions of all civilized and democratic nations of the world.

Towards the first half of the twentieth century most colonised countries of the world were swept by freedom movements aimed at restoring freedom of speech and other basic freedoms which only self governing nations can ensure. India, too witnessed growing agitation of freedom fighters against the British Regime. While leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabh Bai Patel traversed the length and the breadth of the country criticising the despotism and repression of the British Rulers, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose organised Indians, mostly prisoners of war, outside India into Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) to fight the British and free our country from the foreign yoke. He thundered, "Offer me your blood and I will ensure the freedom of India"....
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