How much Freedom is enough in ‘Freedom of Speech’?

‘Freedom of Speech’ and ‘Freedom of Expression’ – Two very important human rights practiced across several countries. More prominently practiced and exercised in the western countries, which is highly commendable and also very vital. There are a lot of places and countries around the world who are still struggling hard to come to terms with using these fundamental rights and look up to western countries who have, with the help of proper law and order been able to make these Rights a way of life.

The problem with Rights though is that, it allows one to use it in the best way possible but also allows one to misuse it. With giving powerful rights to people also comes a part known as using the power and rights responsibly, which when not done can cause immense damage!


East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall
The most famous graffiti on the East side Gallery, Berlin Wall


Very recently I was on a backpacking trip across Europe – France, Germany, Netherlands, Czech Republic and Belgium were some of the countries I moved around during this time. During my time there I was in awe of the way people were so comfortable while expressing themselves, whether it was expressing affection by hugging or kissing each other or maybe just singing on the streets or dancing in the lawns. I was extremely impressed by what I saw……………….until I reached Germany!

On day 2 of my stay in Berlin, I was travelling on a tram with an Indian friend of mine, when somewhere en-route the tram ride a mid-aged man happened to board the tram and sit right opposite us. By the look of it we could guess that this man was drunk, but that’s okay since he was not bothering us. Ten minutes into the journey after this man had boarded, suddenly he started hurling racist abuses onto our face. We knew it was directly aimed at us since the guy did mention things like “F****** Indians”, and the rest in German, which I could not understand. But my friend could, since she was a student in Germany and also working there for the last 4 years. She helped me understand that the guy was saying things like how we Indians spoil their country, etc, etc (all this was said in German and later translated to me in English by my friend). This is the first time in my 31 years on this planet that I faced aggressive racism. Of course we did start to get really infuriated, but my friend and me agreed to not get into any verbal confrontation and in fact changed our seats to somewhere far from this man.

The most upsetting part though in this whole fiasco, more than the racist abuses was the reaction or rather no reaction from the people on that tram. The guy was super loud involving a lot of hand movements when he was hurling abuses, it is beyond a doubt that everyone in that tram must have heard him. The guy continued with his blabbering for a good 10 minutes, it was stunning to see that not one person even blinked an eye. People hardly even looked at him, let alone interfere or give a reaction. Maybe one old woman just bothered to look up from her book for a second, but that was all the reaction this guy got. Unfortunately this was not the end of it, on day 4 in Berlin again I faced the exact same situation at 9 am in the morning in a metro, greeted by similar nonchalance by the people around.

(( Imagine a tiny country with a population a bit over 8 crores and within a week I was a victim of verbal racism. I hope this to be not true but if a permutation and combination of this is done the figures would look real scary! ))

Infuriated and puzzled me and my friend carried on with our evening plans where we met a couple more of my friends living in Berlin, some Indian and some from other countries. Of course we ended up talking about the tram incident. The general insight of the people regarding the incident circled back to something called Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression of an individual. The non-interference of the people around in the tram was credited to how the guy did not try to make any form of physical contact, so maybe it was not necessary for anyone to intervene!

Well ! I beg to differ. I think there should be more humanity in humans, humanity that surpasses fundamental rights! What when Freedom of Speech is used to express hate? What when Freedom of Expression is used to express hatred? Shouldn’t there be a capping of what is allowed and what is not allowed under the name of such Fundamental Rights? I know this is easier said than done, but if sooner or later there is no capping or strict laws around what is allowed or not allowed under strong banners such as ‘Freedom of Speech’ or ‘Freedom of Expression’, soon there will be more Hate than Affection and more Disturbance than Peace. 

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin



East side Gallery, Berlin Wall

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *