Even Britain doesn't have a guarantee of freedom of speech like the US, particularly when it comes to hate speech.
The American lens is a foggy one, even excluding the fact that the rights we guarantee our citizens aren't necessarily the rights we grant citizens of other nations. It's a good thing to keep in mind.
But yes, India DOES promote the idea of freedom of expression and it's been a fundamental part of its culture for much longer than the United States has existed. Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen has a great book on the history of dissent in Indian history and how it's a cornerstone of India's culture and democracy: http://www.amazon.com/Argumentative-Indian-Writings-History-...
Coming to law, Religion plays a role in the law too! Because its the cheapest and fastest way to get justice compared to the traditional courts, where it may take years and your whole savings will be wiped out before you get a judgement. For example Muslims have some thing called as Personal Law: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_India_Muslim_Personal_Law_B... , Which applies to many things like marriage and especially law dealing with personal issues.
In the state of Haryana there are Khap panchayats(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khap)
With such a large country. And thousands of languages, cultures etc. Such diversity in nearly every walk of life be it clothing, food, festivals etc. You can never say/do anything signification without disappointing few people.
That's incorrect and somewhat misleading. It's rather such as - certain parts of (minor subset) some civil laws or family laws come under respective personal laws based upon religion/tribe &c. Like Hindu Marriage Act, Hindi Code Bills, various succession acts &c.
Remaining (most) part is a uniform civil code. However, it can be noted that in case of criminal matters - AFAIK - Indian constitution doesn't discriminate, in any manner, at least on paper.
Politics - both religious and generic - is embedded to everything in India, even laws. There's a landmark Shah Bano case where Supreme Court of India overruled the verdict given by Muslims' holy book which was as interpreted by clerics which is often misleading as in any religions. The interesting part here was that the court was compelled to quote from their Holy book Quran in the verdict - an aayat (like some sort of support) - as it was a very sensitive matter.
There are clearly different laws that apply to different religious groups when it comes to polygamy and other, as you say, family or civil laws.
I wasn't trying to say that the entire legal system in India is bifurcated (multifurcated? =P) along religious lines. I was just pointing out that while the American legal system attempts to exclude religion from the law (to varying degrees of success), Indian tradition includes laws which take into account various religious traditions and customs.
It's just a different way of treating the issue of freedom of religion in the legal system.
I just wanted to clarify the scenarios where laws are intertwined with religion, tribes or caste. Regarding the last term caste I have not been able to find any instance but have read in articles that there are such provisions.
I would like to add that your mention of Polygamy in India needs few lines - it's not enforced in India until and unless you are someone famous where people take interest out of the celebrity nature and hence state intervenes or the case/issue has blown up. It's present even in religions other than Islam. It's 'sort of' legal in most of the tribes based on tradition (this term often comes up in all sorts of legal cases in this country and is given importance) and it's common in rural areas.
In any case, its a fundamental right, enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Its not really a part of the culture, even in highly educated circles. Part of that has to do with the Indian apathy towards Humanities and pursuit of pragmatism over ideology.
It is a distinctly "western" thought (as is "Human Rights"). I actually didn't know whether it had been imported into India, given india's rather "mixed" (east/west) history.
The concept of 'natural human rights' is also a western concept, so no, I don't think we should continue to talk like our (western) way of thinking is the 'right' way, and everyone else is 'wrong'.
Wikipedia lists "western" examples because western canon is very well documented, and this documentation is reliable and extensive enough to quote from.
My readings of Indian history have led me to accept that the freedom of thought and speech have existed, formally and legally, for at least a thousand years - particularly, read up on the times of Asoka's rule.
From my brief look, Hinduism and the Ancient greeks started talking about Freedom (and freedom of speech) at around the same time (~400BCE).
Yes, there are arguments in the Western canon, but when Milton argues for freedom of expression in the Areopagitica, or Mill in On Liberty, they don't argue that you should support free speech because you're a Westerner. They don't make any special appeals to anyone's cultural situation. They make arguments that have universal application.
When you employ reasoning to advocate a principle, it does not become a territorial principle. It becomes applicable pending counterargument from anyone.
The argument that reasoning itself is a uniquely Western idea quickly becomes self-defeating. Anyone asserting anything has volunteered to follow certain logical rules of coherency, which have been derived in the West through observation, not proscription.
Demanding that others be silent, while you alone can speak, tends towards absurdity regardless of the continent upon which you happen to stand.
I was referring in particular to "Human Rights". There are a number of different ways to approach building a productive society. Human Rights are one approach, there are others. Both are rational.
Also, long before Europe became civilized, Indian society (Hinduism) had freedom of speech .
Freedom of speech was ubiquitous feature of Hinduism.
[ The idea that poor people deserve to be able to speak their mind without going to jail is just a 'quaint American ideal.' ]