EntertainmentLaws of India that Jeopardizes Freedom of Speech on YouTube

Akshay Chandra6 years ago

Yes, you can’t be the John Oliver of India. At least on YouTube – India, as it’s an irreversible catch 22 situation. And here are the Indian laws that are prohibiting you from doing that.

The current Indian politics is a mix-up of creeping authoritarianism and people rhapsodizing comical political agendas that help only our imaginary idols. And the situation is same in the United States too, but they have “comedians” that addresses important topics that need unbiased national attention.

People like John Steward, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Trevor Noah, and Samantha Bee are the leading political commentators who started this whole pragmatic liberal revolution. So, for them, media is the platform for commenting on Trump’s Travel ban, exit to Paris Climate Accord, Dakota pipeline strikes, etc. Apart from millions of people watching them on telly, these comedians also have a big YouTube page with at least 2 million subscribers for each on average. Independent news YouTube channels like The Young Turks, Secular Talk, or The David Pakman show are well-reputed news broadcasters on YouTube with their voice and take on the daily news.

But all these American YouTubers and T.V show hosts are protected under the First Amendment Law of the United States Constitution which states that

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Although India is a democracy and citizens have a constitutionally guaranteed right to a freedom of speech and expression; things are little different than the rest of the free nations. Freedom of Speech in India finds a place in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and Article 19(2) which outlines “reasonable restrictions” on the rights conferred by Article 19(1)(a).

Here is what Article 19(1)(a) says.

•    All citizens shall have the right

  • to freedom of speech and expression;
  • to assemble peaceably and without arms;
  • to form associations or unions;
  • to move freely throughout the territory of India;
  • to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
  • omitted
  • to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.
And here is what Article 19(2) says

“(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”

Is Political Humour dead in India?

Cyrus Broacha’s “The Week That Wasn’t”, Shekhar Suman’s “Movers & Shakers” and News on the Loose by Vir Das are all almost insufferably bland, shorn of all biting Indian political satire. But the longest-running of these series is “Munshi” on Asianet, a daily show poking fun at the prevalent political and social practices.

Now, if you aspire to become a YouTuber from India to start a channel that’s similar to “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, “The Week That Wasn’t” or VOX, then apart from understanding the norms of “Freedom of Speech” in India, you need to follow many other laws as well.

The following list of Indian laws, if not followed, can land you behind bars.

  • Section 153(A) of The Indian Penal Code
  • Section 295 of The Indian Penal Code
  • Section 295-A of The Indian Penal Code
  • Section 125 of The Indian Penal Code
  • Section 66A of the IT Act

Section 153 A:

The purpose of the Section 153 A is to punish persons who indulge in wanton vilification or attacks upon the religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. of any particular group or class or upon the founders and prophets of religion.

  • The offense is a cognizable offense, and the punishment for the same may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both. However, the punishment for the crime committed in a place of worship is enhanced up to five years and fine.
Elements of Section 153A:

–    The act of promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste, community or any other group.

–    Acts causing fear or alarm or a feeling of insecurity among members of any religious, racial language or regional group or caste or community by use of criminal force or violence against them.

Example –

Devu Chodankar, Goa, May 2014: Ship-building professional Chodankar was booked for posting a comment against Modi on Facebook.

The posts, uploaded during the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls said: “There is an imminent threat of Holocaust as it happened in Gujarat through the garb of cunning government policies of Parrikar.” Police filed a FIR against him under sections 153(A) and 295(A) of the IPC and section 125 of the Representation of the People’s Act and 66(A) of the IT Act.

Section 295:

Section 295 of the I.P.C makes destruction, damage, or defilement of a place of worship or an object held sacred, with intent to insult the religion of a class of persons, punishable with imprisonment which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Elements of Section 295:
  • The accused must do such an act with the intention of insulting the religion of any person, or with the knowledge that any class of person is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion.
  • The accused must destroy, damage or defile any place of worship or any object which is held as sacred by any class of persons.

Example –

Palghar girls, Mumbai, November 2012: Two young girls from Palghar, Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan, were arrested when one of them posted a question on her Facebook page questioning why the city was shutdown for Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s funeral.

They were arrested for “hurting religious sentiments” under section 295(a) of the IPC and section 66(a) of the IT Act. The court later quashed all charges.

Section 295-A:

The object of Section 295-A is to punish deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or the religious beliefs. This section only punishes an aggravated form of insult to religion when it is perpetrated with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of a class.

Elements of Section 295-A:
  • The accused must insult or attempt to insult the religion or religious beliefs of any class of citizens of India.
  • The said insult must be by words, either spoken or written, by signs or by visible representation or otherwise.
  • The offense under Section 295-A is cognizable and a non-bailable and non-compoundable offense.
  • The police have a power under to arrest a person charged under Section 295-A without a warrant.

Section 125

Waging war against any Asiatic Power in alliance with the Government of India. —Whoever wages war against the Government of any Asiatic Power in alliance or at peace with the 1[Government of India] or attempts to wage such war, or abets the waging of such war, shall be punished with 2[imprisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment of either descrip­tion for a term which may extend to seven years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

Section 66A of the IT Act

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which prescribes punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service.

Elements of Section 66A:
  • Any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character. Additionally, as per Section 66A(a) the term “grossly offensive” will have to be read in such a heightened manner as not to include merely causing offense.
  • Any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
  • Any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages

Example –

Aseem Trivedi, Mumbai, September 2012: Mumbai police arrested free speech campaigner Trivedi for displaying cartoons on his website and Facebook page that mocked parliament and corruption in high places. The caricatures were shared on other social media.

So, if an Indian YouTuber is aiming to have comedy to the level of western media hosts, then following laws and regulations regarding Freedom Of Speech in India can keep them away from controversy and a possible jail term.


Akshay Chandra

Being an artist, movie buff and a media enthusiast, content writing is my career train. I am a proud alumni of Symbiosis Institute of Media Communication (Pune) and currently working for Vidooly.

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