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Recent events in India reveal that free speech is not completely free

New Indian film, Kaum De Heere, or Diamonds of the Community, is an artistic attempt to examine the assassination of Prime Minster Indira Gandhi through the eyes of her killers. The film was stopped from being released by India's Home Ministry for security reasons, claiming the film was "highly objectionable," according to the Press Trust of India.  

In 1984 Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards, fired their guns and shot dead the 66-year-old prime minister. Producer of the film Kuam De Heere, Satish Katyal, claims that his movie does not glorify the killers and is simply trying to explore one of India's most difficult episodes in modern history. Prime Minister Gandhi was killed to avenge the army attack on holy Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple, a few months prior. 

"It's about their personal lives. Why did they suddenly commit this act?" asked Katyal. 

Spokesman at India's Congress Party, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, approved the banning the film, claiming it is provocative and unnecessary in that it will bring up past tensions. The Indian government has banned films before on the basis that they could offend or provoke dissent within communities. Civil liberties activist Gautam Navlakha commented that India's government banned pictures that present a departure from mainstream ideals. Approximately 160,000 films are submitted to the Film Certification Board each year. Some 80 films have been banned in recent history, although they can be appealed.

"This is a choice that authorities have to make. On whose side of the divide are they standing? On the side of freedom of expression? Or those who want to censor it or ban it?" Navlakha says.

Free speech in India's constitution
It is no surprise that films can be banned in India because freedom of expression is not something that is completely set in stone. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code claims sedition is the reason certain forms of expression can be banned. They define sedition as: causing contempt or inspiring dissent towards the government. On this issue, Shailesh Rai, Programmes Director at Amnesty International India, argued, if the government recognizes the necessity of free speech, they then must not make any effort to limit its expression. 

"The Constitution of India and international law recognize the right to freedom of expression, and this right extends to speech that offends or disturbs. Authorities must respect this fundamental right, not seek to curb it," commented Rai. 

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