Freedom of Speech in Pakistan and India

June 9th, 2011
in Op Ed

free speech no  by Ajay Shah

Caption logo from Free Speech India/Facebook

One of Pakistan's more remarkable journalists, Syed Saleem Shahzad, was tortured and murdered, probably by Pakistan's ISI.

Follow up:

In one view of the world, freedom of speech is something that you are gifted by your founding fathers. As an example, if you have the good fortune of having a well drafted Constitution, it would say Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;. This would block the ability of politicians to enact legislation that is inimical to freedom of speech. Then, as long as rule of law prevails, we get freedom of speech. This seems like a palace coup, it seems rather easy, as long as you have the right intellectual capabilities in the hands of those who draft the Constitution of a country.

We in India or Pakistan are not blessed thusly. The Indian Constitution is not clear-headed about freedom of speech, and anti-defamation law of colonial vintage continues to be on the books. This is an important tool for harassment and intimidation. And then, there is the question of rule of law. What is going on in Pakistan is way beyond questions of how the Constitution should be drafted.

It is, instead, more useful to think that democracy and freedom are made of a million battles, small and large. Freedom of speech is won, piece by piece, through a million mutinies. It is important to constantly think, and speak, and write. Each little act of writing about troublesome issues pushes the envelope of freedom of speech, and creates a culture of honest discussion and discourse.

I feel the media in India has become quite complacent about the tawdry condition of free speech in India. All too often journalists can be warned off a seamy story by a tiny exercise of power or influence. All too often, the crooks are able to buy the loyalty of a journalist quite easily. There isn't enough intellectualism going around, among the men and women in the media. Eshwar Sundaresan, writing in Dawn, says that India badly needs more journalists of the character of Pakistan's Najam Sethi. This is one of many areas where India's success in the last 20 years is leading to an erosion of the very foundations of that success.

Dr. Ajay Shah is a Professor at the National Institute for Public Finance and Policy (New Delhi) holding a Ph.D. in Economics (University of South California) and B.Tech in Aeronautical Engineering (I.I.T. – Bombay). His hard cover book “India’s Financial Markets: An Insider’s Guide to How the Markets Work” is available at Amazon, and pens his thoughts on Ajay Shah’s blog. Econintersect cannot begin to summarize Dr. Shah’s impressive resume, which includes being listed in the Top Ten Economists in India. 

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