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Limits On Freedom of Expression

Limits On Freedom of Expression
- Harsh Sharma

‘Ill disapprove of what you say, but ill defend to the death your right to say it’- Voltaire


Right to freedom of expression is a Right to liberty privileged to every Citizen of India by the constitution of India under article 19(1) of the constitution. It includes the right of a person to make his opinions and thoughts known or heard to others and to hear the opinions and thoughts of his fellow man. A person acquires several other rights from the Right of Expression which the law provides. Among these are the right to get information and to perceive and acknowledge the information. Right to demonstrate once thoughts and opinions or to form an assembly is also extracted from the right of expression. It also includes the right to hear music, read books, watch plays and movies, write books or plays. Basically, right of expression is the assortment of rights with the right of being heard and to hear at the core of it and the other rights abutting it.

Freedom of expression Is a complex system coiled with liberties and rights. There are various facet to this right which cannot be explained by a single explanation but various conclusions and discourse to justify this right. An individual need to form an opinion which is free of all the confines and is filled with inventiveness, imagination, expressiveness, vision, artistry,desires, and gives boost to his spirits. It is the freedom of the society to communicate views and opinions with each other without dismay and intolerance, to persuade or influence one another so as to strengthen, secure and develop the democratic administration.

It is important to notice that a Liberty of an individual should not outrage or affront the liberty of any other individual. In the case of A.K. Gopalan vs The State OF Madras it was pronounced that ‘man as a rational being desires to do many things, but in a civil society his desires will have to be controlled with the exercise of similar desires by other individuals’.It thus promulgates that an individual has the right to share his opinion and views through the medium of newspapers, radios or television.

Freedom of expression in India-

Article 19 of the constitution of India grants certain rights to its citizen which forms the basic fundamentals of the constitution and any laws made in contradiction of it will be null and void. Freedom of expression is stated in article 19(1) which states it as –

1) All citizens shall have the right

• to freedom of speech and expression;
• to assemble peaceably and without arms;
• to form associations or unions;
• to move freely throughout the territory of India;
• to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and omitted
• to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business

Nonetheless the government has laid certain restrictions as to this right which is laid in article 19(2) of the constitution –

(2) Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.


It is necessary to preserve this right as well as certain restrictions are to be imposed so as to avoid social disturbance and outrage among the people. Hence, article 19(2) imposes certain restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression which are stated and explained below –

o Safety and Security of the Nation – Security of the nation is of utmost importance and imposing reasonable restrictions on activities risking the security of the nation is of vital importance. However, the term security is crucial and refers only to grave and accumulated form of public disorder i.e., waging war against the nation, riots, unlawful assembly, insurrection or rebellion. Thus, such speeches or expressions which incite or encourage hate which undermine the security of the nation needs to be restricted and kept in control.
o Decorum or Morality – The way people express or say something should not hurt the sentiments or degrade the morality of the society catastrophically. Our constitution provides decency and morality as the grounds for reasonable restriction under Sections 292 to 294 of the Indian Penal Code.These sections prohibit marketing or distribution or advertisement of salacious words or pictures in public places which could lead to social uneasiness or could cause discomfort to a particular society or society at large. The degree of morality varies from time to time and from place to place.
o Defamation – Freedom of expression should not be affecting the reputation of an individual or make it prone to hate, ridicule or repulsive. The constitution has considered defamation as a ground of reasonable exception on such freedom of right. A person’s reputation is more valuable than his wealth or riches. The civil law which are related to defamation is uncodified in India and is subject to certain exceptions.
o Contempt of Court – The honorable courts are of utmost value and needs to be respected and in terms of its order. Thus, expressions or opinions or words which are not reasonable or transcends fair expression amounting to contempt of court comes under such exceptions to this right. The contempt of court couldbe a civil offence or a criminal offence. Truth is the only defense against such a contempt or a statement made in public interest.In Indirect Tax Practitioners Assn vs R.K. Jain it was held that ‘“Truth based totally on the facts should be allowed as a valid defense if courts are determined to decide lawsuits regarding contempt related to a speech or an article or an editorial.”. The qualification is that such defense has to now not cowl-up to break out from the outcomes of a planned attempt to scandalize the court.
o Incitement to an offense – The constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 added this as a ground for restriction on Freedom of speech and expression. Such right does not give right to an individual or a group of persons to provoke or instigate someone to commit an offense or encourage communal violence or disturbance. Such speech or expressions are prohibited which may bring internal disturbances. The word ‘offense’ has been explained in the Indian Penal Code.
o Sovereignty and Integrity of India – It is the primary duty of the government to maintain and look after the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. Any speech or expression which is or becomes a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India or challenges it can be restricted under such an exception by reasonable measures and precautions. No one has the right to rupture the laws to hamper the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.


All the grounds of exception mentioned in article 19(2) of the Indian constitution shows that they are for public interest and public benefit and no rights can be misused by the evil minds of persons who are a stain to the society. The freedom of expression and freedom of access to information is an absolute right but certain misconducts and loopholes needs to be balanced to avoid misemploy. It is vital to spread the awareness to develop the right of freedom of speech and expression in the society.


 Indian Kannon, \'Constitution of India\' (Indian Kannon 2005) accessed 26may ,2020
 A.K. Gopalan vs State of Madras [ 1950] 27. SCR 88 (SC)
 Indian Kannon, \'Constitution of India\' (Indian kannon 2005) <> accessed may 26 ,2020
 Indian Kannon, \'Constitution of India\' (Indiankanoon 2010) <> accessed may 26 ,2020
 Indirect Tax Practitioners Assn vs R.K. Jain [ 2010] 9. KLT 83 (SC)