Free speech not absolute right, must be tempered with proper info: HC
Chennai, New Delhi: The Madras High Court on Saturday observed that Sanatana Dharma is a set of eternal duties, including duty to the nation, king, parents and gurus, while remarking that casteist notions and untouchability were brought in while collating the ‘dharma’ from various literary texts.
“Should not a citizen love his country? Is he not under duty to serve his nation? Shouldn't the parents be cared for?” Justice N. Seshasayee asked, while hearing a petition, filed by one Elangovan, against a circular issued by the Thiru.Vi.Ka. Government Arts College calling for students to share their views on opposition to Sanatana Dharma.
The circular was issued by the principal for a debate on the occasion of commemorating the birth anniversary of former chief minister C.N. Annadurai, but was later withdrawn.
The judge said: “Sanatana Dharma cannot be traced to one specific literature but has to be gathered from multiple sources which either relate to Hinduism or those who practice the Hindu way of life have come to accept.”
Justice N. Sehsasayee further said: “Somewhere, an idea appears to have gained ground that Sanatana Dharma is all about promoting casteism and untouchability.”
He said: “Untouchability in a country of equal citizens cannot be tolerated and even if untouchability is seen as permitted somewhere within the principles of Sanatana Dharma, it (untouchability) still cannot have a space to stay, since Article 17 of the Constitution has declared that untouchability, either within or outside Sanatana Dharma, can no longer be constitutional.”
“Free speech was not an absolute right. When free speech pertained to religion, it was necessary to ensure that no one is injured,” the court said, adding though Article 19 (1) of the Constitution gave a fundamental right to free speech, it was important to underscore that one is adequately informed as it added value to what was being spoken.
The judge said every religion is founded on faith and faith, by nature, accommodates irrationality. “Free speech cannot be hate speech, as the Supreme Court has cautioned. The users of free speech must not ignore these aspects while exercising their right. If this is ignored, the course of any debate will get derailed and the objective behind it will lose significance,” the court observed.
The judge said free speech should be used to encourage dispassionate, healthy debates and help the society move forward without forgetting the ethos and values of the Constitution.
Since the circular in the present case was already withdrawn, the court encouraged the college to instead make the students reflect on the evils of untouchability and how, as citizens of the society, they could eliminate untouchability.
Meanwhile, the Union finance minister on Saturday hit out at DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin, saying he should speak realising his responsibility as a state minister.
Despite witnessing insult to Lord Rama in Tamil Nadu in 1971, Sanatana Dharma did not respond with violence, she said.
Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, the finance minister said: “No one has the right to say that he will eradicate a religion and in particular a minister has no such right at all. The oath a person takes before assuming the office of a minister makes that very clear.”