[Editorial Analysis] Removing fear: on literary freedom

Mains Paper 2: Polity

Prelims level: Sec 295A

Mains level: Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

Context

• Literary freedom is taken for granted in democracies, but forces that threaten or undermine it are always at work.

• In recent times, several attempts to get books withdrawn, pulped or sanitised of offending content have achieved full or partial success in India.

• Public order, national unity and social or religious harmony are the principles commonly invoked against the practice of literary freedom.

• Threats to free expression, especially artistic freedom, in our times mainly
come from those claiming to espouse the interests of a particular religion or social group.

• It is in this context that Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP and writer, has introduced a private member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha seeking to protect freedom of literature.

• It’s objective that “authors must be guaranteed the freedom to express their work without fear of punitive action by the State or by sections of society” commends itself to any society that upholds liberal values.

• It seeks the omission of three IPC sections, including 295A, in effect a non-denominational blasphemy law, as it targets deliberate or malicious acts to outrage religious feelings.

About the Sec 295A process

• Section 295A is a grossly misused section, often invoked in trivial ways to hound individuals, harass writers and curtail free expression.

• It deserves to be scrapped. Sections that relate to the sale of obscene books and uttering words that hurt religious feelings are also sought to be omitted.

• However, it is unclear why Section 153A, which punishes those who promote enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race or language, and Section 153B, which criminalises words and imputations prejudicial to national integration, do not draw Mr. Tharoor’s attention.

• In the process of proscribing a book, he proposes a tweak in the form of a 15-day prohibition.

Way forward

• Thereafter, the onus should be on the State government to approach the High
Court to seek a permanent ban.

• It favours the scrapping of the provision in the Customs Act to ban the import of books, but makes a public order exception.

• It wants to limit the bar on obscenity in the Information Technology Act to
child pornography.

• Private Bills rarely become law, but they are useful in highlighting gaps in the body of law.

• Mr. Tharoor’s initiative is most welcome as a step towards removing or diluting penal provisions that inhibit literary freedom.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) At the commencement of the Constitution of India, every person who has his domicile in the territory of India shall be a citizen of India:

A. Who was born in the territory of India

B. Either of whose parents was born in the territory of India

C. Who has been ordinarily resident in the territory of India for not less than six years immediately preceding such commencement
Choose the correct option:

A. A only

B. A and B

C. B and C

D. All of the above

Correct Answer: B

Mains Questions:

Q.1) The private member’s Bill aimed at protecting literary freedom from threats is welcome. Briefly explain the statement.

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