New Delhi: Free speech is not to be exercised only if it falls in line with the majoritarian view and right to dissent is the essence of a vibrant democracy, the Delhi High Court has said while dismissing a plea to stop the publication, circulation and sale of Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s new book.

Justice Yashwant Varma, who was dealing with the plea which claimed the book “Sunrise Over Ayodhya: Nationhood In Our Times” “impinges upon the faith of others”, said that rights guaranteed by the Constitution, including free speech, cannot be restricted or denied on perceived apprehension of being unpalatable and a democracy governed by the rule of law would be placed in serious peril if creative voices were stifled or intellectual freedom is suppressed.

In his six-page order, the judge quoted Voltaire, “While I wholly disagree of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it” and said that free speech “must be zealously protected” unless the work conclusively falls foul of the constitutional or statutory restrictions.

“The right to dissent or to have and express a contrarian view with respect to current affairs or historical events are the essence of a vibrant democracy. That fundamental and precious right guaranteed by our Constitution can neither be restricted nor denied merely on the perceived apprehension of the view being unpalatable or disagreeable to some. The freedom to freely express ideas and opinions cannot be permitted to be overshadowed by the ominous cloud of being non-conformist,” the court said in its order passed on November 25.

“The freedom to freely express ideas and opinions cannot be permitted to be overshadowed by the ominous cloud of being non-conformist,” it added.

The court noted that in the present case, the book in its entirety was not even placed before the court for its consideration and the entire case rested solely on certain extracts appearing in one of the chapters.

In the petition, the petitioner had claimed that certain excerpts from the book were “agitating the Hindu community” while threatening the security, peace and harmony of the nation.

Counsel for the petitioner had contended that the book, in its chapter called ‘The Saffron Sky’, compared Hindutva to radical groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, which could harm public peace.

“So, in a country like India, which is perpetually on a communal tinderbox, where religious sentiments run deep, where respect for certain public and historical figures always come accompanied with veneration for their demi-god status, it doesn’t take much for malice to be coated with a toxic communal hue based on the contents of the book,” the petition had said.

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