Unedited note, first draft.
Amongst the many instances, in conversations both public and private, where the friction between free speech and women's rights (or, more specifically, the right against violence) has manifested itself are those:
- in relation to pornography where free speech has, unfortunately, often found itself being pitted against women's rights simply because of the sheer length of time it took for any acknowledgement worth mentioning to be made in public discourse that a purported normative free speech right to access pornography can (or at least, should) only exist where that pornography is both made and disseminated with the consent of those who feature in it;
- in relation to verbal abuse where it has been argued that, for example, verbal street harassment constitutes an exercise of free speech which should not be a legal offence despite the fact that it is targetted at a specific individual and could not possibly qualify as a general misogynistic rant which doesn't necessarily target anyone;
- in relation to the posting of online advertisements, games, and tools such as the so-called 'dowry calculators' (For fun! it's said) and foetal sex-determination aids even though, bearing in mind that an intermediary would have limited protection through the IT Act, there are compelling arguments to be made for the illegality of such online content;
- in relation to the blocking of advertisements made for escort services without, it would appear, any research having been done to ascertain who exactly the posters are and whether the legality of such advertisements could potentially differ depending on whether they were posted by persons providing services themselves or others possibly coercing them into providing the services; both trafficking and pimping are illegal in India.
There are areas in which the law is beginning to be clarified (albeit not really in India). On July 14, 2016, for example, the FBI released a statement on distinguishing between Free Speech and Threatening Speech. It read in relevant part:
"Free speech, however, cannot be misconstrued to include directed threats toward another individual, group, or location. Once threatening speech is directed toward a specific person; a group of people, including law enforcement agencies or ethnic communities; or specific locations in a community, it can be viewed as a credible threat. Individuals who communicate threats may be subject to prosecution."
(This post is by Nandita Saikia and was first published at Indian Copyright.)