Freedom of Speech

Author: Shreya Student at, The NorthCap University, Gurugram  



This article tells about one of the most important and controversial right of an Indian citizen i.e. Freedom of speech, provided by the constitution of India under Article 19(1) (a). This right is fundamental right which means infringement/violation of this right will result in punishment prescribed under the Constitution. The Fundamental Rights are defined as basic human freedoms where every Indian citizen has the right to enjoy for a proper and harmonious development of life. So if any person or an individual is violating your fundamental rights, you can directly approach to Supreme Court or High Court for justice.


Equality and freedom, are the two rights that are most essential to a democracy. Liberty means freedom of thought, expression and action but it does not mean freedom to do anything that one likes. Article 19(1) (a): to freedom of speech and expression. This implies that all the citizens of India     have the right to speak and express their views, opinions and feelings freely. This also includes words of mouth, way of writings, movies, banners, drawings etc. This article also includes freedom of press as part of freedom of speech. Freedom of expression has four main objectives to serve: 

  • it helps an individual to achieve self-fulfillment
  • it helps in the discovery of truth
  • it helps in strengthening the capacity of an individual in participating in decision-making 
  • it provides a mechanism by which balance between stability and social change can establish. 

Restrictions under the article 

Freedom of speech is not absolute. Article 19(2) imposes some restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression. The reasons for restrictions are following as: 

  1. Contempt of court: Any words or actions which result in the criticism of judges or judiciary amounting to offend the court is not protected under Article 19(1) (a). 
  2. Hate Speech: Such words which are used to harm someone or to spread hatred which results in the violence are not covered under this article. 
  3. Sovereignty and integrity of the country: Any words or actions that results in the ruining the sovereignty and integrity of the country.
  4. Morality or decency;
  5. Defamation;
  6. Friendly relations with foreign countries;
  7. Public order 

Rights covered under this article 

  1. Right to information: It means that every person have the right to/ access to correct information in order to maintain transparency and accountability in working areas under the public authority. There is a proper act i.e. Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
  2. Right to be silent: It states that it is not necessary to speak every time. It also include the individual’s right to be silent. 

Famous case:  National Anthem Case 

Bijoe Emmanuel vs State of Kerela (1986) 

In this case, there were three students choose to remain silent while national anthem was going on. The Supreme Court held that remaining silent or not reciting the National Anthem does not amount to disrespect towards the Nation. Besides, they did stand in respect whenever the National Anthem was being sung.

  1. Right against sound pollution: The right relates to sound pollution problems, basically it deals with use of loud speakers at gurdwaras, mosques etc.

Case: Moulana Mufti Syed vs State of West Bengal 

            Calcutta High Court held that Azan is an essential part of Islam; however the use of loudspeakers is not an essential part of Azan itself. It was also held that freedom of speech and expression doesn’t mean to disturb the other people of locality. 

  1. Right to fly National Flag: The right to fly national flag is also considered as fundamental right.

Case: V.K. Naswa vs Union of India (2012)

In this case, the petitioner filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court claiming that various public figures including Baba Ramdev, Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, etc. had insulted the national flag of India, thereby contravening certain provisions of the Flag Code of India. The Supreme Court held that the question concerning whether any disrespect was shown to the flag or not, invokes determination of the facts, which was beyond the scope of writ jurisdiction. Courts do not have the competence to legislate or to direct the legislature to formulate legislation in a particular manner. Dismissing the writ petition, the Supreme Court observed that the case did not warrant any judicial intervention.

Freedom of Press provided under freedom of speech and expression 

Freedom of Press states that no administrative authority or control should be implemented on the information, thoughts, actions and knowledge on the Press because it guards or protects the interest of public by spreading awareness about the failing, misdeeds and lapses of government or any other bodies. 

Press has the same rights as those of an individual but obviously with some reasonable restrictions. The freedom of press confined to newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, periodicals, circulars and every sort of information handler. 

Some important case laws related to freedom of press

  • Brij Bhushan and Anr. Vs State of Delhi (1950)

In this case, Supreme Court mentioned that restriction on the freedom of press, unless or until it created danger to the State or Nation, is the restriction on the freedom of speech and expression as provided under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. 

  • Romesh Thappar vs State of Madras 

In this case, while ruling on the validity of the order that banned the circulation of the weekly magazine in the some parts of Madras, the court held that the freedom of speech and expression also includes freedom of ideas that can also be done by circulation. 

  • Sakal papers vs Union of India(1961)

In this case, it was held that freedom of speech and expression is an integral part of our democratic society which also includes freedom of press, freedom of ideas, freedom of circulation, freedom of publication. Hence the Government should not pass any order that can infringe the fundamental rights of an individual. 

Relevant Case laws related to Freedom of speech and expression

  • PUCL vs Union of India (1997)

In this case, PUCL, filed a public interest petition challenging the constitutionality of Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. This section allowed the Centre or State Governments, during public emergencies, to check messages when they believed it was necessary on grounds such as protecting India’s sovereignty, maintaining friendly relations with other nations and preserving public order. The Petitioner resist that this section violated individual’s privacy rights. The Court recognised that the right to have private telephone conversations at home or work without interference could be considered a right to privacy.  

  • Amish Devgan vs Union of India 

In this case, it was dealt with issues related to freedom of speech, hate speech, and protection of religious sentiments. The court’s decision underscored the need to balance the competing interests of free speech and the need to prevent the spread of hatred and communal disharmony. It also highlighted the role of the press or media in promoting journalism and preventing the spread of hate speech.


A basic element of a democracy is to allow citizens to actively participate in the different processes of the country such as political and social. For proper and healthy function of democracy there should be ample of freedom of speech, expression, thoughts and feelings. It is important because it allows citizens to express its thoughts on government policies and scheme and criticize them if they are not correct for the citizens. The voice of people should be heard and their grievances should be satisfied. Freedom of press is also important because press told the important information which are not disclosed by the government or any other bodies to the people. The above freedoms are important and absence of these freedoms will threatened the democracy and government will become powerful.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q1. What is Article 19 of the Indian Constitution?

 Ans.  Article 19 of the Constitution means right to freedom. 

Q2.  Is freedom of speech or Article 19(1) (a) a fundamental right?

Ans. Yes, freedom of speech is a fundamental right provided by the Indian Constitution. 

Q3.  What are the other rights covered under Article 19?

Ans.    1. Right to freedom of speech

            2. Right to assemble peacefully 

            3. Right to form associations/unions  

            4. Right to move freely in every part  of India

            5. Right to reside or settle in any part of India

            6. Right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation or trade.

Q4. What are different grounds on which state can limit the freedom of speech?

Ans.  Various grounds on which state can limit the freedom of speech are as following:

  1. Contempt of the court
  2. Hate speech
  3. Sovereignty and integrity of the country 
  4. Public order
  5. Friendly relation with foreign countries
Freedom of Speech

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