This article is written by Mridul Gupta, a student of UPES.


There has been a tussle between religious sentiment and the freedom of expression. At times, the expression offends the other party so much that one might end-up in a casket. As we grow old we always, find an urge to express something about anything we could possibly think of, be it politics, science, morals, religion you just name it. Religion is something which is very personal to human beings, it so much related to is that we cannot part away from it. Every human living and breathing on the planet earth follows some religion or the other. As per me, religion is set of rules for motivating an individual, controlling the behavior of an individual and invoking in him the ideals of proper living. There are so many religions through-out this globe that it is impossible to enumerate them here. Some the major ones are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism. The conclusion is that we cannot detach ourselves from religion. It is certain that if one is following a religion he/she will develop a “religious sentiment” to a certain level. Those who follow their religion more strictly generally get offended easily when talked about that religion other-wise.

Freedom of Expression

Freedom is something which is as important to us as breathing itself. We have witnessed humongous battle for freedom, and it has no exclamation point yet. If we trace the history, we will see that “expression” is the key to influencing anyone, and I mean ANYONE. Great leaders have used it to perfection, Martin Luther King, Chankya, Narendra Modi, etc. being some of the examples as to how expression can trigger a change in the society. Freedom is a fundamental right as well. Looking into the Indian Constitution, Article 19 gives us the right to express ourselves freely.

Freedom of expression holds the same paramount importance in most of the states through-out the globe. Media is the body who has used this right to perfection. Media brings into the public domain what is happening in the world, state, town, neighborhood, etc. since, media such an important role it needs some extra privileges but what extent, depends on the circumstances. Media have a right to publish on matter possible because its work is to keep the society as wholly aware of what’s happening around them. This includes freedom to express the view regarding religion as well.  This also has its own repercussions, and we have witnessed it many times. One among them will be discussed here critically.

The French incident

A newsweekly in France (Paris to be precise) published some cartoons of different deities/ gods & goddesses in so-called bad light. The new paper called “CHARLIE HEBDO” as per some members of the community it was offensive and was belittling their religion. They got so offended that they even killed the cartoonist by open firing into the headquarters. WHAT A SHAME!   They think that they can do anything in the name of religion.

Why Cartoons?

If we look into the ideology of this newsweekly we will be able to see that it is “SATIRE” weekly. Now what does satire means? It means presenting a serious topic in a non-serious way by using parallelism. “ANIMAL FARM” being the classic example here, it is the biggest satire ever written. It used animals to depict great leaders of Russia and Germany, etc. The reason behind writing satire is that it hides the real meaning of the story presented remains esoteric. It is very important also. So, this is the reason Charlie Hebdo uses cartoons to present their stories.

The mind of the Cartoonist

Imagine you are a cartoonist or an artist rather, how could your portray your expression in the best possible manner? I think through the art you know, be it poems, songs, paintings etc. so for a cartoonist his best to express his views is through the cartoons he makes and as part of growing we are groomed in such a manner that we are made to believe that cartoons are funny and non-offending. So, the question that stands unanswered is that a simple cartoon offended someone so much that the offended part opened fire on the cartoonist!

Epicenter of the dialogue

Coming on the real scenario now, recently the Paris news weekly published some cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in their newspaper, supposedly it was offensive but the records show that a huge number of copies of the paper was sold much more than the general number. Juxtaposing isn’t it! It is not the first time this happened. The same thing took place in 2006 also, on February 9 it was published  Under the title “Mahomet débordé par les intégristes” (“Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists”), the front page showed a cartoon of a weeping Muhammad saying “C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons” (“it’s hard being loved by jerks”). The newspaper reprinted the twelve cartoons of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy and added some of their own. Compared to a regular circulation of 100,000 sold copies, this edition enjoyed great commercial success. 160,000 copies were sold and another 150,000 were in print later that day. The Islamic community got offended by the blunt act of the publisher. The repercussion was that their office was destroyed by the fundamentalists and several organizations filed suits against the agency. But to the amusement of these the President (Nicolas Sarkozy at that point of time) of the country was in the favor of the press and their freedom of expression, subsequently the highest court of the land decided the matter in the favor of the news agency.

Reason Behind the decision

The Council for the news agency was able to establish that the reason behind the cartoon is correct and the depiction of the same is also reasonable. One the cartoons showed Mohammad with a bomb in his turban. The idea behind this was, the publisher wanted to attack the terrorists by showing so. They wanted to make them aware that Mohammad never supported violence, nor he ever took this recourse to establish anything.

Why do Muslims get offended whenever there is a depiction of Prophet?

In Islam, it is believed that there is a bar on showing the picture of Prophet. It is kind of blasphemy for them. They follow this rule very strictly and expect others to do the same so, whenever someone depicts Mohammad through picture they get offended and feel disrespected as well.

The question that arises here, is that- taking the law in their own hands and away offering death penalty to the depicter straight away is the order of the Prophet? Does he want every person who is not following the rules to be executed?

 I don’t think so, but the actions of some individuals portrays so.

The Sentiments

Every individual has certain set of sentiments and different individuals differently when their sentiments are hurt. The religious sentiments are among the most sensitive ones. But every country has a lex loci (law of the land) through which one can register his non-compliance or anger if he is hurt. Taking the gun shooting the other individual is not the solution. That’s exactly what the terrorists do and, we certainly do not want to be one of that.

The laws

Every state has its laws regarding as to freedom of expression. Some countries are liberal, some are not so liberal but, they allow this freedom to a certain extent. This means that it is necessary to have certain freedom regarding speech and expression. Apart from this it is also necessary to have checked on as to how this freedom is being used. If something is hurting the sentiments of the public at large within the sphere of the freedom over and over again, it definitely needs some attention.

The recent controversy

Charlie Hebdo is again in the lime light as it had again published some cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in their paper on as early as 7th January 2015. This had the repercussions as stated earlier, 2 men got into the office of the agency shot 4 men mercilessly and did ordered a lady employee to convert Islam. WHO ARE THEY! If it did not trigger anger in you as a rational being then there is something wrong with you. While doing this heinous act they were chanting “Allah-u-akhbar” this means God is great! How Paradoxical! Committing a heinous crime in the name of God. Is this a joke? Who are these men ordering someone to change their religion to Islam?

These questions have no answers.

The aftermath

After all this, a World-wide protest has broken out in the media raising their voice against these “CARE TAKERS” of the religion. As early as 11th January 2015 another attack was registered in Berlin, Germany as one the news agency had re-printed the cartoons the Charlie Hebdo in their news-paper, their office was under attack by arson. Burning objects were thrown in the office of the news agency, some staff was seriously injured. Following the attack was a gesture of support by the media through-out the world by a slogan “JE SUIS CHARLIE” meaning “I am Charlie”.

The Indian Perspective

India is the country standing 2nd in terms of population, just behind China. The population consists of roughly 125 odd crore people. And around 50 crore of them being Muslims. Imagine the aftermath that can take place if something like this happens here. We have witnessed this over and over again that individuals in order to fulfill their ulterior motives purposely disturb the religious sentiments of the general public. The most common being the “Hindu v Muslim”. We saw this in the scenario of Muzaffur Nagar riots in Uttar Pradesh.

Another example I would to bring to your notice of “SHIV SENA” in Maharashtra. If anything against their ideology or against their leader they attack the person or the whole office. They physically assault the people for expressing the views.

Freedom of press in India is another issue that needs attention, judiciary is trying hard to control the evils of media. In the absence of any strict laws the judiciary can only ask the media to refrain from something nothing else. The media is also considered to be the 4th pillar of the Indian Constitution (the reason behind this is still under the scanner).

As we have seen that how sensitive some individuals can be when something is portrayed relating to their religion and according to them it is not correct, we can imagine the aftermath that could follow if any Indian print media decides to re-print these pictures. It can lead to country wide riots, and that would be horrifying.

The Indian Laws

The Indian Penal code allows everyone to go for necessary injunctions/punishment in order to safe guard their sentiments and other personal things. One can file a case against the other party for offending the sentiments; subsequently the judiciary will decide the matter. What I am trying to highlight is that, the Indian legal system provides a proper channel through which one can right the wrong, not by taking out the gun and shooting the other party. But this doesn’t generally happen. One more perspective is that the object obscenity in the pictures, in some of the pictures Prophet has been shown in “objectionable clothing” or even without clothes as well, this could to obscenity as well. Under section 294 of the Indian Penal Code one can be punished for display of obscene objects. So these pictures can be used (if re-printed) for such punishment as well. Since these photos have not been re-printed in India as yet we are still unaware about the repercussions that could follow.


There are so many unanswered questions that drawn out:

Is the idea of expressing views in an unconventional manner incorrect?

Should the fundamentalists allowed to act as the care takers of any religion?

Does the media have an absolute right to freedom of expression?

Will the Charlie Hebdo incident be repeated every time a news agency tries publish something involving Prophet Mohammad?

All we need to do is to take some time out of our busy schedules and do some introspection. The tussle is still on and it seems that it is not going to end soon.

The views expressed in the article are those of the author.

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  1. This is just a primer. The basic factor of the following has to be explained and debated:

    1. What is freedom of expression?
    2. What does the word “Secular” mean

    And here is the world of difference between India and France (western world).

    In India there are too many attempts to lay restraints. To argue that the ” law allows such restraints” is a false argument: there SHOULD BE NO RESTRAINTS.

    In India wherever vote-bank politics drives decisions anti-freedom actions happen, as one saw from the Shah Bano case, the different personal laws, and a fair share of the sharia. Then Rushdie, Taslima, Vishwaroopam, …. and Doniger (who was not banned, just lost a case at a lower court and the publishers folded up), and Perumal…

    But the other side is also very clear: they do not want the gentleman who filed a case against Donigers books (a perfectly legal act), to talk or argue against the book!

    PK for approval to be shown on a U basis, but the same cohort that said : do not see PK, if you dislike it, now banned MSG – what a great leap: what I say is freedom of expression, what you say is blasphemy.

    Now the word Secular, has been totally rogered by India and the left leaning political parties. This has come to mean, anti the majority (when democracy is for the majority, by the majority!) and pro the minority, simply because the minority votes en bloc.

    But that begs a question: does Secular not mean, not in favour na any religion, at all? That is what the French say!

    And this mongrelization has led to India’s weak kneed response of hit the majority, because they are tolerant.

    Now talk about that.

    • Sir did you get the theme of the article or you just got SENTIMENTAL and narrowed the down the theme into something else? I think you must read it again, and please be open minded.

      • Nope. I am not sentimental.

        India has a habit of trying to be too cute and losing the way. secularism has been mangled into an Indianism, which maks it meaningless: the same as we say “revert back to me” – tautological and meaningless, as I would not revert, just get back to you!

        So secularism which means being agnostic in public life, has become a word meaning “wholly religious” to selectively favouring someone.

        This has totally destroyed Indian democracy, which for ages we were told means: for the people, by the people, of the people, based on the simple rule of majority.

        The Constitutions words cannot be destroyed this way.

        India’s constitution then is not really true: secularism is practiced in France. In India, it is a joke that is being practiced, not secularism.

        No one has the guts to say this, as freedom of expression in India is one of: I have the bright of this freedom, you? You are blaspheming!