By Dr. Olav Albuquerque
March 23 is a national holiday in Pakistan because it was on this day that Pakistan first got its Constitution. India and Pakistan share a common heritage because both their Constitutions were based on the Government of India Act, 1935, which was drafted by the British. Pakistan’s first Constitutiondrafted nine years after independence on March 23, 1956, guaranteed the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 8. But like its counterpart in the Indian Constitution, it did not mention freedom of the press, which is a British concept.
The military regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan abrogated the Pakistan Constitutionin 1958. So, a new constitution, promulgated in 1962, guaranteed the right to freedom of expression under Article 6, but like its Indian counterpart, did not mention the right to freedom of the press. This Constitution was soon abrogated by the military regime of General Yahya Khan and after his regime fell, the democratically elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formulated a new Constitutionin 1973 which is in force today.
This 1973 Constitutionwas drafted with the consent of all parties and guaranteed the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 thereby going one step beyond Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitutionwhich merely states that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression.
Indians and Pakistanis are free to express opinions or ideas orally or in writing, get them published, post them over the internet, or conveywhat they feel through art or caricatures. This includes the right to seek, receive and impart information, ideas or opinions, in any form.
Unlike India, Pakistan enjoyed only a very brief period of complete press freedom under Muhammad Ali Jinnah. After his death, newspapers which offended the rulers were banned and their editors jailed. Successive governments continued to muzzle the press. Several laws were enacted to curtail press freedom and browbeat journalists from telling the truth to the public.
Article 19 of the Pakistani Constitutionstates :
Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.
On the other hand, Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitutionstates:
All citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression
Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution states:
(2) Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence
A comparison of the guarantees of free speech with restrictions in the Pakistani and Indian Constitutions reveal that both are identical with only the words “in the interest of the glory of Islam” as an added restriction on free speech in the Pakistani Constitutionbecause it is an Islamic republic.
However, unlike the brief period of press freedom under Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Pakistan, India has enjoyed a greater degree of press freedom with the exception of 21 months during the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi between 1975-77 when she was unseated by the Allahabad High Court and the Indian Supreme Court gave her a temporary respite. These factors prompted her to emasculate both the media and the judiciary.
But today in India, so-called enlightened Hindus like SubramaniamSwamyspout radical views that God dwells only in temples and not in churches and mosques while castigating Sonia Gandhi for telling U.S. President Barack Obama that Indian Christians feel persecuted. Freedom of speech is misused by the Hindutva brigade who assert that India is a Hindu country. Even the so-called moderates of the Indian Hindu nationalist BJP party like Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar, formerly chief minister of the western Indian state of Goa, where Catholics comprise 24 % of the population, spout that GoanCatholics are culturally Hindus, thereby eradicating their unique Portuguese culture.
“India is a Hindu nation in the cultural sense. A Catholic in Goa is also Hindu culturally because his practices don’t match with Catholics in Brazil except in the religious aspect, a Goan Catholic’s way of thinking and practice matches with the Hindus,” Parrikarmischievously said in an interview to the New York Times recently which aroused the ire of GoanCatholics.
Like Muslims in Pakistan, Catholics do not believe in idol worship and worship one God. But there are a few BJP showpieces like Goa’s deputy chief minister Francis D’Souza who call themselves “Catholic Hindus” for selfish political gain.D’Souza was hoping to become Goa chief minister after Parrikar was made Indian defence minister. But his hopes were rudely shattered because the RSS which is the core of the BJP, will only permit their own ideologues to occupy top posts.
Article 19 1 (a) of the Indian Constitution gives all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. But today, the speeches of the Hindutva brigade are reminiscent of the George Orwellian classic Animal Farm where Mahatma Gandhi, who occupies a pride of place in Indian hearts akin to Mohammed Ali Jinnah of Pakistan, has now been castigated for being a British agent while a temple is being built for Gandhi’s assassin – NathuramGodse. Ridiculing Marxism, Orwell had caricatured the brainwashing of people which is allegedly being carried out now by rewriting of textbooks in some BJP-run Indian states.
Today, India and Pakistan are fragmented by divisive politics propagated by elected leaders who say one thing and do the opposite, creating discord and disharmony between both countries. India’s Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said he believed in press freedom but widened restrictions on press freedom by amending the Indian Constitution just as late Ayub Khan of Pakistan set up the National Press Trust which owned 11 newspapers in the then undivided Pakistan and turned all the newspapers into mouthpieces of the government. Successive Pakistani Presidents have all suppressed press freedom and free speech.
So India and Pakistan continue to delude their peoples that they enjoy unbridled freedom of speech in their respective countries while in reality, only the views of those in consonance with their rulers are published. The voices of the minorities will forever remain suppressed.–The author is an advocate of the Bombay High Court and former journalist of The Times of India. (Content of this article are independent views of the writer, which the Daily Mail may necessarily not agree with).
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