Article - 19, Social harmony in reasonable restrictions

- By Aryaki Sethi

Can a democracy truly function with absolute freedom? Article 19 has evolved to answer this question. This article of the Indian Constitution provides to its citizens a cluster of rights. However, to strike a balance the principle of reasonable restrictions clarifies that one’s right exists to the extent that it does not rob others of their rights. Article 19 has constantly been challenged and new definitions of reasonableness have emerged from this litigation. At its core, it propagates a spirit of social harmony for a nation enriched with diversity.

The constitution-makers strongly felt that a nation like ours that had faced over 200 years of struggle under the colonial rule needed to make the citizens feel empowered, this led to the birth of article 19. Article 19 of our constitution is one of the most powerful possessions of the citizens as it provides them with the freedom of speech and expression. They have the right to receive information, express their views and even maintain confidentiality. Many interesting judgements have been passed over the years with the support of this law allowing freedom of the press, freedom of commercial ads and even right to remain silent! This freedom lays the foundation for citizens to live a life of dignity and allows for continuous discussion in the democratic sphere.

Sadly, unrestricted freedom allows for loopholes and for lawbreakers to exploit these rights. So to ensure that rights are only used for the welfare of the society, there are a number of reasonable restrictions (under clause 2-6) that the government can adopt. In the landmark case of Hamdard Dawakhana vs Union of India 1959, the court held that advertising a ‘magic medicine’ with the intention of making commercial profits is a misuse of the freedom of the press and can not be defended using article 19. While the marketing expert must have thought that he/she is exercising his/her freedom of expression, such absolute freedom is not in the interest of the general public. In another case, Bennet Coleman vs Union of India 1972, when the Newsprint policy restricted the number of pages a newspaper could have, the court defended the rights of expression of the press and held that such qualitative or quantitative restrictions are unconstitutional.

Article 19 has so much more to offer than what first meets the eye. Under clause 1(b), it provides citizens the freedom to assemble peacefully without arms. This freedom to assembly is supported by the freedom to form associations and unions, under clause 1(c). Together these laws warrant a citizen’s right to protest, express dissent and allow them to protect their rights and interests.

Due to the deep-rooted caste system, Indians across the nation were forced to adopt certain occupations. They were unable to reach their true potential and felt oppressed. The clauses 1(d),(e) & (g) are the tools adopted by our constitution-makers to combat this social evil. These clauses provide freedom of movement, residence and occupation, respectively. The purpose was to foster unity in the nation and promote a feeling of belongingness. The government can curtail these rights on grounds of the interest of the general public such as to protect scheduled tribes, ensure professional qualification or in case of a state monopoly. These laws allowed the Indian to experience a newfound independence and liberty after years of striving for it.

Article 19 has seldom been referred to as the backbone of the fundamental rights because it ensures that citizens have free will. Such legal mechanisms enable citizens to live satisfactory lives with contentment and hope. More importantly, it ensures that the views of the citizen can be expressed transparently and allows the democratic institution to grow, evolve and serve the nation’s ever-changing needs.

About the Author

Aryaki Sethi is a content writer and mental health advocate. She is currently pursuing Bachelor of Applied Science , Psychology and Health Sciences from the University of Toronto Scarborough.