Speech and Other Things

Two thoughts, which (with apologies) raise questions without providing answers:

(1) The attitude of those in power in Russia towards Stalin (see LA Times, Russia Reconsiders), reminded me mildly of the attitude of some in power at home towards Indira Gandhi (see Indian Express, Recalling Indira). Dynastic compulsions, then, may not be the only reason that figures-of-the-past are given the kind of symbolic attention they tend to receive. The question that I hope to raise here is: how much room is there within Indian political parties for debate, dissent and the free exchange of ideas – even ideas critical of the party’s past? (Consider the fate of Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah, and Shashi Tharoor’s holy cow);

(2) While linguistic rights and the freedom of speech are documented and protected in separate provisions of the Indian constitution, I wonder if there are any legal links between language and speech? (The question sounds strange when asked). Recent problems between Slovaks and Hungarians (see Economist, Linguistic Discontents) made me think of our own linguistic chauvinists back home. The question I hoped to raise is: can it be claimed that one’s right to speak in a certain language is as much a part of the freedom of speech as is the idea expressed? In other words, can parents claim that they have a speech related right to have their children educated in the language of their choice? [cf. Meyer v. Nebraska – in the US it’s a substantive due process right] In other words, can I claim that the vehicle used to convey the idea deserves as much protection as the idea itself? Incidentally, from whatever little I know of languages, each language has its own cultural baggage. Does language choice have any inherent speech related expressive content?

Written by
Abhinav Chandrachud
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