Bangalore International Centre had arranged a thought-provoking Panel Discussion on “If freedom is limited is it still freedom?” on Wednesday, 18th March, 2015 at 6.30 PM at its auditorium. The panelists were Dr. Arshia Sattar, Indian Translator, Facilitator, author and Director, Mr. Bhairav Acharya, Constitutional Lawyer and Ms. Nisha Susan, Writer and Editor. The event was moderated by Ms. Ammu Joseph who is an independent journalist and author.
The panelists discussed about the massacre of cartoonists and others in and around the office of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in January which was almost universally condemned which also triggered a global debate on freedom of expression and its boundaries. Their debate also had references to several other protests in recent years, including the furore against his book which led to the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan’s declaration of his own death as a writer. They drew attention to the fact that freedom of expression is under threat all over the world and certainly in India. Many who recognise and accept the vital importance of freedom of expression as a fundamental human right are simultaneously raising the question of whether or not it can be viewed as an absolute right, especially in diverse and complex societies. The panelists felt that there is clearly no easy answer but an open, nuanced discussion is clearly the need of the hour. While Dr. Sattar and Ms. Susan talked of the several fetters placed on individual freedom of expression, often on subjective considerations, by the executive authorities, Mr. Bhairav Acharya explained the constitutional and legal limitations, along with judicial interpretations which have restricted complete and absolute freedom of expression. According to him, the right to freedom of expression has an implicit right to offend as long as it does not breach the boundaries stipulated.
The audience was overwhelmingly against the philosophy of censorships and bans and felt that no shades of government are capable of talking any objective or rational view in this respect. The absorbing discussions were enjoyed by all.