Under the Constitution of India, by the written words of Article 19 (1) (a), all people are legally guaranteed the right to say, write, express through gestures or actions, whatever they feel. The only restraint applied to this is by reasonable restrictions mentioned under Article 19 (2). But, in simpler terms, we can avail ourselves of this right nearly without any constraints.
The feeling of being offended is highly subjective, and transcends ideas, cultures, disciplines, ethics, moralities and beliefs. Each person has a different set of these, and no two are identical. On the other hand, it is through this exchange of ideas and beliefs between two or more persons that progress can be made – whether in our professional or personal lives. Not to mention that this leads to a flow of thought – introspection, retrospection, whatever name we choose to give it.
Taking offense at something, an action, word, gesture or exhibition of emotion, means being dismayed, annoyed, troubled, angered or repulsed by it. Every person has a different threshold. For example, take two people – A and B, they are working at an office, and A calls B fat. This offends B, who is conscious about his weight, and does not like being singled out because of it. He gets angry, or dismayed, or sad. The emotions within the sphere of offence are not one, two or three, but legion. So are the reactions when offence finds a trigger.
Continuing the same example, but placing A and B in a different situation, A and B are at the gym. A is one of the trainers there, and B is a man who wants to reduce his weight, but since he is just starting out, he easily tires. A, his trainer, calls him fat, and tells him, “You will not become lean just by sitting around. Your fat will not burn itself.” B initially is taken aback, but immediately thinks about what A just said to him, and what A is trying to do. A is trying to help him out in the long run, by encouraging B to push his limits, so that he can attain his goal. Here, offence, though the first instinct, is misplaced.
Of course, what I have just described above is a simple example, but it can happen. It does happen. So, now we arrive at another question, “Can constructive and meaningful offence be an exception to the general idea of taking offence?” The answer, alas, is not so simple. Like I said before, offence is subjective, and depends on the person receiving the apparently offensive remark. One man or woman may take it constructively, but then an observer would have to keep in mind the circumstances which warranted the offence. Was it necessary? What was the motive behind it? Why such a thing was said, done or expressed? Was there another way around, which could have led to the desired result? These are questions that can have simple or difficult answers.
Therefore, take this situation, complicate it tenfold, or maybe more, and we may have the beginnings of a lawsuit. The courts of the country have deliberated a lot on what is the true scope and ambit of Article 19 (1) (a). A few landmark cases on this issue are:
a) People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India (AIR 1997 SC 568) – wherein it was held that telephone tapping is a violation of article 19 (1) (a), unless done within the prerequisite conditions mentioned under article 19 (2).
b) Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India (1985 2 SCC 434) – in this case, the Supreme Court of India clearly stated that the freedom of the press (print and audio/visual press) is an essential right, and cannot be abridged, curtailed, or otherwise interfered with by any law or government action. Such action goes against not only Article 19 (1) (a), but also the democratic spirit of the country, since the people have the right to opinions, and to share information on issues of public, regional, and/or national importance.
The freedom of expression is almost absolute, but is vital to our everyday existence. Without it, people could be arrested every day just for having a say on things they feel are significant. Taking offence, on the other hand, is subjective and circumstantial. And the line between the two is indeed discreet, especially now, when communication is commenced and ended within moments, both in person, or in the digital space. Perhaps that is why some take this right for granted. The value of genuine conversation has surely declined. If we lived in an age of letters and pigeon-carriers, maybe we would be more careful with our words, more considerate in our actions.
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
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