Socrates said "The unexamined life is not worth living." He was always seen as a conflict between state and individual freedom and liberty and to put own sense of conscience or moral integrity even above law. The issue of Freedom of expression versus Nationalism has never been as dramatic as it is in current scenario. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of an individual and Nationalism can be summarized to some extent as fundamental duty. The universal declaration of human rights defines freedom of expression as the right of every individual to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers; whereas the nationalism can be sated as loyalty and devotion to a nation with a sense of national consciousness exalting ones nation above all other.
It all started on 9th Feb. 2016 when certain students of Jawaharlal Nehru University organized an event against "judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt". During this event anti Indian slogans were raised along with a demand of separation of Kashmir. As a result few people were booked and arrested under Section 124A of IPC. The students claimed that the constitution provides them freedom of expression and speech and hence such actions are unconstitutional. Article 19 of the Indian constitution implies that every citizen has the right to express its views, opinions, belief and conviction freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, picturing or in any other manner. The students riding on this article forgot that the very same article empowers the state to impose restrictions on exercise of freedom of speech and expression on the grounds of acts against sovereignty and integrity of India, public order etc. Also, organizing an event to portray a terrorist as a martyr though all kind of legal proceedings were used before execution does not amount for freedom of expression but contempt of court and an insult to the head of state because the mercy petition was rejected by His Excellency; The President.
Since JNU incident the race of nationalism versus freedom of speech and expression has been accelerated. In an attempt to institutionalize nationalism, the HRD Minister Smriti Irani proposed and passed a resolution thereby making it compulsory to fly national flag in all central universities. Though it can be stated as a good move but the question arises is that is it necessary to teach nationalism rather than inculcating those principles. Flying and display of national flag is a symbolic gesture but unwanted for.
The other major incident which infuriated this debate was started by RSS and Hyderabad MP Owaisi. The RSS leader emphasized usage of slogan "Bharat Mata ki Jai" as a symbol of proving nationalism. Hyderabad MP Owaisi in response refused to utter this slogan as it is against his religious belief. This led to a widespread debate whether raising slogans can be a proof of a patriotic citizen? The point to observe is that our constitution does not mention any criteria to prove nationalism and hence such dictate by any individual goes against constitution. Similarly, a MLA of Maharashtra was suspended by speaker for not raising slogan of "Bharat Mata ki Jai" after a resolution was passed against him in the assembly. This violates article 19 and article 25 of constitution.
In a separate incident at Bangalore, a family refused to stand for national anthem before screening of a movie in a theatre and was later asked to leave the hall. To understand this incident one must visit article 51A of constitution which states that it is a fundamental duty of every citizen to respect national flag and national anthem. The prevention of insults to national honor amendment act 2005 says that it is a punishable offence to prevent someone from singing national anthem. Thus it can be said that it is not compulsion to stand during national anthem under any law of land. But again it should be moral conscience of an individual and love for their nation to respect national honor.
From all of the above it can be concluded that one must use his or her own moral conscience to prioritize nationalism or fundamental rights under different circumstances. With every right comes responsibility, so while exercising ones right it becomes necessary to follow the fundamental duties as well. Nationalism and Freedom goes hand in hand. It is for this nationalism that we can exercise such fundamental rights. Also, one needs to identify the difference between nationalism and aggressive nationalism because the latter one is destructive in nature for an individual in general and society at large. There are many activists who try to act as self appointed conscience keepers of the nation. They are often active on issues such as naxalism, secularisms, environment and even rights of those accused in terrorism. In these matters, the question of balancing security threat to nation and human liberties becomes important.
- Dheeraj Singh