ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Taking Free Speech Seriously

Offend, Shock, or Disturb: Free Speech under the Indian Constitution by Gautam Bhatia, Oxford University Press, 2016; pp 392, `653 (hardcover).

The reviewer is grateful to Aparna Chandra, Sharan Bhavnani, Simon Hentrei, Mathew John, Vasujith Ram, Arghya Sengupta, Arun Thiruvengadam, and V Venkatesan for their comments. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

One July evening in 1954, as Ram Manohar Lohia sat down to eat in Farrukhabad, there was a knock on his door. The state police were outside to arrest him. Earlier that day, the socialist leader had made two fiery speeches sharply criticising Govind Ballabh Pant’s administration for increasing irrigation rates in Uttar Pradesh. He urged farmers to refuse to pay the higher rates. An economist by training, civil disobedience was not new to Lohia. He had been jailed several times for it during the national movement.

Lohia’s campaign, the “Nehar Rate” agitation, rapidly spread across the state. Among its foot soldiers was a teenager called Mulayam Singh Yadav (Jaffrelot 2003: 368). Lohia was charged under a state law, which made it an offence to instigate others to avoid paying taxes. The law had been enacted in 1932 to curb civil disobedience-type agitations during the national movement. Like other repressive colonial statutes, it remained even after independence.

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