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                                   The Freedom of Speech and Expression Debate

Kamal Bharati

In the past few weeks, networking sites were abuzz with opinions on a comedy show. All India Bakchod, a group of talented comedians put up an insult comedy act named AIB ROAST. In that, few comedians clubbed with one reality T.V. star and a film critic roasted/insulted Bollywood celebrities like Karan Johar, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor in front of a sizeable adult crowd. ‘Let the filth begin’, as announced at the start of the show by the roast master Karan Johar, was quite filthy, with some obscene gesture, use of foul words and dirty jokes.

The content was definitely not for non-adult public. But, as all the participants and audience in question were adults they took part and viewed it willingly. The makers of the show tried to push open the Pandora’s Box which could have come as a rude shock for some spectators, few hush – hush, little drift and shift on chairs, but mostly applauded with loud cheer and laughter. It takes a lot to shed our image and laugh at ourselves. The proceeds of the show would go towards charity and some noble cause also calls for appreciation.

But the controversy started when the organizers uploaded the content on Youtube and the video went viral with record viewing in a short span of time. Before the makers could take off the videos from their Youtube channel, it was already viewed by hordes of onliners including myself. The question now arises, was it appropriate for the makers to upload this video in a public platform like Youtube? Though the video runs a warning saying that it is strictly for the viewing of adult viewers but was that enough to stop a 9 or a 10 year old viewing this comedy show.

I do not have a clear answer about this but support having freedom of speech and expression. The issue of the limit and extent of this freedom needs to be debated. I do not want that awkward moment when a ten year old daughter does not understand a filthy double meaning joke and asks her father to explain it.

Speaking about freedom of expression, recently we have witnessed protest in different parts of India against the movie PK. The movie was a big success and people appreciated the novelty and Amir Khan’s outstanding performance. But at the same time, some people got offended and believe that certain scenes in the movie show disrespect to their revered God which is not acceptable to them. The makers of the movie wanted to give some message, so they have used some imagery and made fun of certain prevalent practices. As messages in the movie were delivered with pun intended rather than plain speech and scriptures, we cannot say that the movie makers wanted to hurt anyone’s sentiment.


On the morning of 11th January, we have witnessed the killing of 12 people mostly artists and cartoonists of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in a cold blooded massacre at their office in Paris. Two gunmen fired barbarically killing those people in revenge of the depiction of their Prophet in bad light. They shouted that they have avenged the disrespect shown to their Prophet   by the magazine.


This incident also shows the conflict between freedom of expression and religious tolerance. Why are people getting offended so easily, are we becoming more intolerant culturally and religiously or are we producing religious fanatics while practicing our freedom of speech? These issues need attention from all sections and should be discussed at different levels. At the same time, we should not allow us to be pulled down by the regressive forces and fundamentalists advocating stereotype and keep moving forward.

I think there are certain set and drawn lines regarding how far we can go enjoying that freedom, and excel within that periphery without hurting somebody’s sentiments and dismantling our social harmony. However thin that line may be, yet we should not cross that line in our endeavour for exercising freedom. Otherwise, these jokes, satires, though pun intended and sometimes thoughtful as well, will continue to evoke reactions ranging from moderate to radical underpinnings.

The writer is a freelancer based in UK. He can be reached at bharati.kamal@yahoo.com


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