On 8th Feb 2018, Satya Prasoon and Ashwini Tallur of CLPR wrote in The Wire that speech could only be free if it was not protected for its “external” value but only when it was protected when used to express “uncomfortable” and “unconventional” ideas. This analysis of what constitutes free speech was triggered by the recent rise in “Triranga Nationalism”. They examine the appropriation of national symbols by certain groups in the name of “patriotism” and explore how certain public demonstrations demanding social justice or against government actions would be deemed “unpatriotic” if national symbols were used by the protestors.
The aura that has been created around national symbols has been such that any debate is cast in terms of only patriotism, not freedom of speech.
While delivering the M.N. Roy lecture last year, Justice A.P. Shah, former chief justice of the Delhi high court, lamented that “we are living in a world where we are forced to stand for the national anthem at a movie theatre, we are told what we can and cannot eat, what we can and cannot see, and what we can and cannot speak about”.
In the wake of the recent violence in Kasganj, Prof. Apoorvanand noted the rising trend of ‘Tiranga Nationalism’, when ‘the tricolour is used to mark territory’, through assault units aiming to ‘capture new territories and vanquish people, to make them submit to the diktat of those who claim that this flag belongs naturally and only to them’.
A series of ‘Tiranga Yatras’ are being planned across Uttar Pradesh and ‘tiranga nationalism’ appears to be a new strategy to appropriate national symbols and infuse them with the Hindutva ideology of ‘othering’ minorities. This calls for careful consideration of ‘national symbols’ – what they mean and represent. And it is in this context that we look at a facet of free speech that has got least recognition – symbolic speech using national symbols.