Article 19 of Indian Constitution
Every citizen of India has the personal liberty and freedom to exercise his/her fundamental rights, as enshrined in the Constitution. Article 19 is one of the key Articles that guarantee freedom of speech and expression. Some of the landmark judgments in the history of India have been taken as per the provisions mentioned in Article 19.
Concept and Purpose of Article 19
The primary purpose of Article 19 is to protect certain rights regarding freedom of speech. According to this Article, every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression; assemble peacefully (without arms); form associations or unions; move freely throughout the country; reside and settle in any part of India; and practise any profession, or carry on any occupation.
The Article 19 explicitly states that the right to freedom of opinion and expression also includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Article 19 (5) of the Constitution “purportedly empowers” the states to enact legislation of their own for protecting indigenous people.
In the interests of the sovereignty, integrity, and security of India, the states can enact any law that imposes “reasonable restrictions” on the exercise of the rights mentioned in Article 19. Moreover, the Defamation clause under this Article prevents any citizen from making any statement that injures the reputation of another. It is to be noted that the privileges under this article remain suspended during the proclamation of emergency.
Benefits of Article 19
Although the Constitution of India does not specifically mention the freedom of press, it is implicitly defined under the Article 19 (1a). It has been included as part of freedom of speech and expression. Therefore, the press is also subject to restrictions that are provided under the Article 19 (2).
In fact, the Right to Information (RTI) emerges as a fundamental right under this Article as the prerequisite for enjoying the freedom of speech and expression is access to knowledge and information. Therefore, RTI becomes a constitutional right and an important aspect of the right to free speech and expression. Access to information also helps the citizens perform their fundamental duties mentioned in Article 51A.
Amendments to Article 19
First amendment to Article 19 was made on 18 June 1951 when the Nehru government introduced clauses against “abuse of freedom of speech and expression”. The clauses 2, 3 and 4 of Article 19 were amended in 1963 to enable the states to make laws and impose restrictions on the exercise of the rights to preserve the sovereignty and integrity of India.
Immediately after the revocation of emergency in 1978, the 44th amendment was passed wherein the Article 19 was amended for the third time. It annulled the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property. The latest amendment to Article 19 happened in 2012. Under the 97th amendment to the Indian Constitution, the right to form cooperative societies was included as a fundamental right under Article 19 (1c). The objective of the amendment was to “encourage economic activities of cooperatives which in turn help the progress of rural India.”
Violation of Article 19
Recently, there have been instances of individuals being arrested under section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act for posting ‘objectionable comments and caricatures’ of political figures on social media. This has led to a furore among the citizens of the country who have claimed that Section 66A curbs freedom of speech and expression and violates Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
Another form of violation of Article 19 that’s rampant in India is the hate speeches that we often get to hear from the political leaders. These hate speeches come with malicious intention of “outraging the religious feelings” and hence they incite communal violence and endanger public tranquility, which is against the principle of Article 19.