Speakers' Corner And Freedom of Speech

Speakers’ Corner And Freedom of Speech

I got down from the Big Bus at Hyde Park. Opened Google map to discover how to reach Speakers’ Corner when Lulu, my parrot, landed on my shoulder.

“Hi, Going to Speakers’ Corner? You will see freedom of speech in action there. I will guide you,” Lulu said.

“Oh, what a surprise to meet you here Lulu. There cannot be a better guide to a place than a Psittacula krameria, a parrot, I mean.”

“Obviously! Homo sapiens like you lose their way quickly!! Ok, did you visit the place where they used to hang criminals?”

“Why would I go there? It is not a holy place. Why did you ask me this question?”

“Because Speakers’ Corner is close to Tyburn Gallows. That’s where they used to hang convicts.”

“Really? And the convicts were allowed to speak before they were hanged. Tyburn gallows operated between 1196 and 1783.”

“Shocking. I guess that’s the only time people would have listened carefully and perhaps with sympathy.”

“That’s how the Speakers’ Corner originated. At least some believe so.”

“I see a religious debate going on here, at the Speakers’ Corner. Interesting. Back here at home, people were more open-minded earlier. I feel we have gradually closed our mind to any other thought – religious or otherwise.”

“Your Constitution guarantees freedom of speech.”

“Respecting freedom of speech requires listening empathetically to the other view. We may not agree with a contrary view, but it can be plausible. But do not accept it at all, we give it a short shrift.”

“Yet at the same time, you say you value democracy. The attitude that there are two views, my view, and the wrong view, is not okay.”

“What about hate speech? What about speeches of Raj Thackeray and Jitendra Awhad who often tells people to indulge in violence to solve their grievances?”

“Nobody listens to them too. But you are right. That’s just not acceptable.”

“True. The English judge said ‘freedom of speech could not be limited to the inoffensive but extended also to the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome, and the provocative, as long as such speech did not tend to provoke violence.’”

“Well said. There are limits to everything. The trouble is that those who respect freedom of speech, as well as its limits, are the silent majority.”

“Till then the political leaders will get away with murders. Try instituting a Speakers’ Corner. Maybe it will awaken the silent majority.”

Watch the video ‘Speakers’ Corner in London’

Vivek S Patwardhan